Personally, I think we need to be careful when it comes to telling writers what they can, and can’t, use as material (unless an individual has been charged with a crime, at which point the case is sub judice).
THIS! The most stupid and short-sighted thing a journalist could do is to tell someone else "you can't talk/write about this!"
Imagine a Star Wars film centred around an eccentric but brilliant inventor masterminding a guerilla war against the ruling forces. With the odds stacked against him, he assembles a motley crew of rule-breaking misfits and somehow he wins. Then, at the end of the movie, he reveals his latest and most incredible creation: It’s the Death Star, and he’s even remembered to remove the exhaust port.
This is why Remainers are going to struggle with Brexit: The Uncivil War, the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring referendum drama which airs on Channel 4 on Monday. Breezily scripted and brilliantly acted, it makes a hero of Dominic Cummings, the man who brought you the three key elements of Leave’s victory: Turkey about to join the EU (not true), £350m a week for the NHS (not true) and ‘take back control’ (a great slogan, but since we already had control, not true either).
Once called a “career psychopath” by David Cameron, Durham-born Cummings is, according to many, a genius-level political operator whose ruthless self-belief renders him unsuitable to play nicely with others. Here Cumberbatch gives him Bobby Charlton’s haircut and Jack Charlton’s accent – although at times it wobbles and he’s more Sherlock than Spender.
More importantly, he gives him humanity. Cummings joins Alan Turing, Sherlock Holmes, Julian Assange and Stephen Strange as one of Cumberbatch’s trademark weirdo savants – “a geeky anarchist who wants to show off”, as one character describes him. You’re encouraged to join the dots to other Cumberbatch roles: the title Uncivil War nods to Cumberbatch’s Avengers appearances and there are other Easter eggs for fans of both Marvel (in an early scene at Tate Britain) and the actor (when a Sherlock alumni appears as the voice of Peter Mandelson).
Writer James Graham and director Toby Haynes, a Sherlock veteran, seem to have patterned their film around the excellent baseball analytics drama Moneyball. When Cumberbatch’s Cummings is geeking out about Facebook demographics or scribbling on surfaces like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind we’re pushed to root for him as we did for Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe. Knowing what we now know about the dodgy dealing of Vote Leave – very little of which is explicitly touched on here – it’s a deeply uncomfortable feeling.
But rest assured that however bad you feel while watching Brexit: The Uncivil War, Brexiteers have already decided they are going to be feeling even worse. Take the journalist Charlotte Gill, whose credits include the Mail, Telegraph and Spectator. Unafraid to make up her mind despite having seen only a 60-second trailer for a 100-minute film, she complained on Twitter that “Brexiteers are going to be the baddies. Remoaners are going to be the goodies – even though Brexiteers are actually the heroes.”
(This last part made me laugh because it’s true that most angry people seems to be Brexiteers there was at least one high profile Remainer journalist overreacting about this without having even watching it)
For fear of being triggered then, it might be best if Leavers tune in just for the final moments of Brexit: The Uncivil War. You know, the bit where they win. For The New European readers it’s going to be a tougher watch. Though Graham and Haynes give it a grating and needless Hollywood gloss (no, the final result wasn’t a mystery until it was announced onstage in Manchester in the early hours of June 24), the sequence showing Leave’s victory is every bit as depressing as the real thing.
But, my fellow Remainer snowflakes, do not be tempted to turn off just as the champagne corks pop. If you do, you’ll miss Cumberbatch using a spectacular and completely accurate four-letter term to describe Nigel Farage. And you’ll definitely be reading complaints about that on Twitter.