Leavers will hate film that makes a hero of their guru
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 selfbelief 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.”
It’s true that many in the Leave camp don’t come out of this well. Nigel Farage is portrayed as immigration-obsessed, Bill Cash as buffoonish, Arron Banks as a laddish cartoon, Daniel Hannan as blankly self-assured, Boris Johnson as willing to set aside truth in the pursuit of victory. Cummings himself is accused of glibly feeding a toxic culture which will break Britain apart. All libellous stuff, were it not completely true.
But this will not matter to Charlotte and the true Brexit believers, who will overlook that the Remain camp also get a kicking here – complacent, hectoring, always playing defence and out of touch with ordinary people until the referendum is lost – because it feeds their latest mantra, that the luvvies are subverting Brexit.
Take as an example the amazing overreaction to Sarah Phelps’ masterful reinvention of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, which screened on BBC One over Christmas.
Setting aside moans about Phelps’ plot changes (despite the fact that faithful Poirot adaptations starring David Suchet play daily on ITV3) and John Malkovich’s failure to do Suchet’s René Artois accent, what Brexiteers really did not like were a handful of scenes in which Poirot encountered members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. “The story has been re-imagined as an anti-brexit parable,” moaned Tim Dawson, writer of the unlamented BBC Three sitcom
Coming Of Age on the Conservative Home website. “Left-liberal propaganda… excruciating,” was the Telegraph’s verdict. The bizarre @Labourleave Twitter account asked: “Why is the #BBC tarring 52% of the population that pays for it as ‘fascist’? This pitiful, offensive nonsense from Sarah Phelps is luvvie ignorance and posturing at its worst.”
Then, when Jodie Whittaker phoned UNIT for help in the New Year’s’ Day
episode of Doctor Who, only to be told that the military organisation had been “put on hold following financial disputes and subsequent funding withdrawal by the UK’S major international partners”, the blood pressure rose once again. “I cannot f**king believe that the BBC are now peddling their anti-brexit propaganda bulls**t with Doctor Who,” tweeted ‘Incarnation Eleven’, adding, “Oh… hang on… of course I can!”
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. Brexit: The Uncivil War airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday, January 7