War Machine (2017)

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Brad Pitt as General McMahon and Ben Kingsley as President Hamid Karzai

In 2010 I remember reading about US General Stanley Allen McChrystal, the warrior monk runner, eating only one meal a day, and subsisting on four hours’ sleep in every 24. Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings painted him as a bizarre figure, like George C Scott’s Buck Turgidson, or perhaps just as a consequence of Hastings’ antipathy for the military in general and McChrystal in particular.

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House of Cards (2013)

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Perhaps the biggest praise I can offer for the Netflix remake of the British political thriller House of Cards by Michael Dobbs is that it may just deserve all the hype it is attracting, and some awards too, when the time comes.

It seems that half the content of all reviews I have seen so far is taken up with uninformative but apparently obligatory speculation about the Netflix business model and ‘bright-shiny-internet-thingie-I-don’t-understand’ fulmination by the reviewers, so I won’t do that here.  Nor do I want to get bogged down in synopses.  Stenography and parroting are what Wikipedia and a gamut of other sites are for (see codicil below).

Instead I want to focus on the lineage of the British BBC production of the 1990s; the difficulties faced by writer Beau Willimon in translating a Thatcher-era political thriller into an imaginary near-future Washington, and the reasons why it worked despite some obvious flaws.

Central to my understanding and appreciation of House of Cards is my knowledge of the Thatcher era in Britain, and one of its products – the novels House of Cards (1989), To Play the King (1992), and The Final Cut (1994) by Michael Dobbs, made into eponymous BBC dramatisations in 1990, 1993, and 1995 respectively – that so compellingly highlighted the callous, self-serving new orthodoxy of British (as well as American and Australian) politics during those times.

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