Brexit: The Uncivil War Amid all the talks of no deal, backstops and Canada-plus, what we all could do with is some escape from Brex … oh. At least this one-off drama on the referendum campaign is marked by its quality, penned by playwright James Graham and starring Rory Kinnear as Remain head Craig Oliver and Benedict Cumberbatch as Vote Leave savant Dominic Cummings. Monday 7 January, 9pm, Channel 4
Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave campaign chief, and genius or bullshitter, hero or villain, depending on who in Westminster you talk to.
Over the course of this film, Graham let’s the viewer make up his or her own mind as to which. But many will come away thinking that maybe, just maybe, he is neither.
Uncivil War feeds what me might call the great-man theory of Brexit, a conviction that the cunning of Cummings and the bouncy enthusiasm of Boris Johnson (played here by a distractingly slim Richard Goulding) are wot won it for Leave.
But though this makes for compelling drama – and Cummings, a sweary, intense northerner who quotes Sun Tzu, is a fascinating figure – this approach does rather write the public out of history. It also flatters the elite Leave operators and feeds the elite fantasy that voters were hoodwinked by evil geniuses.
Still, for political buffs and lovers of good drama, there’s plenty to enjoy here, and glints of real insight too.
Cumberbatch is electric as Cummings: aggy intensity accentuated by the calm Durham burr. Despite being an arch-Remainer, Cumberbatch manages to humanise the man once described by Nick Clegg as a ‘loopy backroom adviser’ with ‘anger-management issues’, and illuminates the campaigning philosophy he brought to Vote Leave.
This film is no Remoaner howl. The script is often sympathetic to Cummings, and to some Leaver concerns. But voters are still presented less as political agents and more a kind of riptide, stirred by the referendum campaign, bringing change but at great cost.
In one striking moment, after taking his cosetted Vote Leave colleagues to impoverished Jaywick in Essex, Cummings puts his ear to the ground, to listen to the roar of the country.
Brexit: The Uncivil War is an accomplished drama, buoyed by some terrific performances. It deals with its chosen subjects well and has set the bar high for the slew of Brexit dramas that will no doubt follow.
With parliament in recess, I was able to sneak off to a preview screening of James Graham’s excellent Channel 4 drama, Brexit: The Uncivil War. So much about the film was well-researched and spot-on (the look of horror on Boris Johnson’s face when the referendum result is declared was pitch perfect), but it is Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the Vote Leave architect Dominic Cummings that really took centre stage.
For most of the campaign, Cummings operated in the shadows, using Johnson and Michael Gove as figureheads for his £350m bus stunts, and he only showed his head above the parapet when he was summoned to explain his actions before the Treasury select committee. I was privileged to have a ringside seat. He began by picking a fight with the chair, Andrew Tyrie. Instead of taking his seat, Cummings strode across the room to eyeball Tyrie face to face, insisting that he had to be away by 4pm and that if proceedings overran then he would walk out. Thereafter, he appeared hellbent on proving descriptions of him as a political psychopath to be entirely accurate. It was the most memorable committee appearance since the ex-Mrs Murdoch assaulted a member for the public for throwing flour over Rupert. He refused to confirm anything, saying it was not up to Vote Leave to provide accurate information, and made a point of insulting each member of the committee in turn.
It was hard to know if he was an idiot savant or an idiot complete and by the end it was impossible to tell if Cummings actually believed in the objectives of the Vote Leave campaign or was merely fuelled by contempt and disdain for the political establishment. Two years and James Graham’s film later, I’m still none the wiser.
I was thinking how angry people who imagine their own version of the plot in their minds and then moan about how that version is completely wrong make me laugh but I’m really hating people saying the movie shouldn’t even exist. I seriously think that one of the biggest problems nowadays is people thinking no one with the “wrong” opinion deserves to be listened. Yes, there are awful people with awful opinions out there but you can’t stop them if you just can’t expose and debate them!
A movie with a moderate view should seem particularly dangerous to extremists of both sides.
I also read a tweet (clearly influenced by the Observed journalist) telling HBO how they are doing something illegal releasing a movie about an ongoing criminal investigation because the UK law. Of course, there’s not a criminal case yet so they aren’t doing anything illegal but even if that was the case, why an American TV Chanel should care for what UK law says? This is a honest question: If HBO is obligated to respect a foreign country law then Netflix is right in censoring a comedy show for making fun of the horrible Saudi Prince for killing Jamal Khashoggi?