TV & Radio
Robin Wright steps into the presidential spotlight with a steely élan in the final series of ‘House of Cards’; ‘Doing Money’ captures the icy terror of human trafficking and sex slavery; and John le Carré adaptation ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ offers porten
Sound and screen reviews
When it came to knowing what a female presidency in the US might look like, the world was effectively left wondering. But not anymore. And if HouseOfCards (now streaming, Netflix) is anything to go by, it’s not exactly pretty.
Now that Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is the 47th president of the US – having taken over the mantle from her recently departed husband Frank (Kevin Spacey) – she is dealing with a somewhat new form of correspondence.
“God never intended a woman to rule this land – she is the anti-Christ, and a Jew,” reads just one missive plucked from a deluge of hate mail. There are four times as many death threats delivered to her as to Frank, we find. Others are more creative, initiating a contest to find the most creative way to kill her (skinning, apparently, then creating an American flag from her remains).
It was a huge question, perhaps the only question: how would Netflix manage the not inconsiderable task of dispensing of its pivotal character at the apex of the show’s popularity? In the wake of sexual-harassment allegations made against Spacey, there was an initial, momentary panic that the series would be unceremoniously canned. In time, it was revealed that season six would be its last.
This will certainly be a very different House Of Cards in the wake of Spacey’s departure. Frank Underwood was an unforgettable character, yet the pleasant surprise is that the show appears to be doing just fine without him. And given how Wright has held down the first episode with a steely élan, it’s safe to say that the only way is up.
As it stands, season five ended on an intriguing note: with Frank resigning before he could be impeached and indicted for criminality. As Veep, Underwood promises to pardon him once she is sworn in as president.
And she certainly looks and acts the part: regal, glacial, tailored, proffering the odd glossy, warm exchange when needed.
Yet the brief warmth of professional and personal satiety is soon replaced by anxiety. Spacey may be out the door, yet Frank’s presence, legacy and death looms large in every scene here.
In the opening episode, Underwood encounters some old friends (though newcomers to the series), media mogul Bill (Greg Kinnear) and his sister Annette Shepherd (Diane Lane). Ostensibly the wealthy, powerful Shepherds support her – Annette is an old school friend – but that remains to be seen. Another new character, a TV reporter named Melody Cruz, also looks likely to feature heavily in the president’s future fates. Can we assume that Underwood is already a step ahead of those intent on double-crossing her? Perhaps. But as ever, half the fun will be finding it all out.
Season six’s opener is chilling, sleek and still (despite one jumpy heart-stopping moment). There’s plenty of room for melodrama and sensational action further down the line, but for now, and in the wake of Frank’s death, the mood in the White House is definitely sombre and somewhat reflective.
It’s already been a richly busy month for female-led projects on Irish screens, but it’s safe to say that DoingMoney (Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm) is about as far as it’s possible to get from the sugary, glossy Finding Joy, the breakneck melodrama of Blood or the first-world problems of Women On The Verge. Centring on slavery, human trafficking and the murky underbelly of the sex trade in Ireland, Doing Money, a co-production between RTÉ and the BBC, is probably the most bone-chilling drama to arrive on Irish screens in some time. And in Halloween week, that’s saying something.
Romanian Ana (Anca Dumitra) is working as a cleaner in London when she is snatched from the street in broad daylight. “Nobody knows where I am, not even me,” she reveals in a monotone voice-over.
Resistance against her new captors is, predictably, futile: ‘How far will you get in your knickers in a foreign country?” posits a fellow sex worker. She and a handful of other escorts – including 18-year-old Daniela (Voica Oltean) – are pinged around the country, alternating between the “porn-star experience” and the “girlfriend experience”, with violent, bloodied interludes.
Her clients are unlikely to be of any help and, as one particularly chilling scene shows, those living their daily lives on the same street as whatever house the women are “doing money” in are none the wiser as to what happens behind papered-up windows. Many of the women’s clients, as it happens, are only too happy to look