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BREX FACTOR: Why we’ll all struggle with Brexit film The Uncivil War… and 2019’s first Brexiteer of the Week

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Brexit film The Uncivil War. Photo: Channel 4 - Credit: Archant

Steve Anglesey on why the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring referendum drama is going to be a struggle for Leavers and Remainers alike…

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.’

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 over-reaction 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.


4) Nostradamus

The French seer has been criticised by the Daily Express for failing to predict what will happen with Brexit – possibly down to the fact that he died in 1552.

British psychic Craig Hamilton-Parker told the paper: ‘What is most strange about the Nostradamus predictions is that they do not appear to have any references to Brexit.

‘I foresee a hard Brexit with May in power to the last minute when there will be a leadership challenge – Boris takes the crown.’

Meanwhile Jemima Packington, who uses asparagus to predict the future, told the Mirror that though fears about Brexit would prove ‘largely unfounded’, 2019 would bring a worldwide recession with famous British brands collapsing. On the plus side, she predicted that asparagus sales would hit an all-time high.

3) Theresa May

The hapless PM cannot get a single thing right. Asked by website Politico to name the Christmas movie she loves most, May replied: ‘My favourite festive film is Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby – it gave us the original version of White Christmas, and is a real holiday classic.’

A terrific answer, and one her researchers must have spent literally seconds on Wikipedia to come up with. Had they actually watched Holiday Inn instead, they’d have realised that it contains an excruciating scene in which Crosby performs a song in blackface, while dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

He’s accompanied by a white orchestra wearing black face paint and slave garb straight from the cotton fields, while the white audience is served by blacked-up waiters.

Note to May: If you’re planning a film about life in the new post-Brexit Britain, the title Birth Of A Nation is already taken.

2) Jeremy Hunt

‘A second referendum would be damaging because we are a democracy,’ said the foreign secretary on his trip to Singapore. So letting the public vote is now undemocratic, while the best place to defend democracy is in a one-party state!

It surely doesn’t help that four days after the referendum, then-health secretary Hunt told the Daily Telegraph that the Tories should ‘negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election’.

But back then he wasn’t positioning himself to become Theresa May’s successor by appeasing the Conservatives’ Brexity base.

1) Tony Gallagher

‘Those EU citizens who have built their lives in the UK have given huge amounts to this country – and they must be made to feel welcome,’ began a striking Sun editorial on December 29. ‘So the Home Office’s sinister demand that they ‘apply’ to stay here after we leave the EU, with the silent threat of imminent deportation, strikes all the wrong notes… there is a difference between ensuring control of our borders and straight-forward hostility.’

This is absolutely right, which begs the question of where the government might have got the idea to turn up the heat on migrants in the first place. Perhaps it was from the newspaper which printed front page stories like ‘1m migrants heading this way’, ‘Another 330,000 migrants prove we cannot control our own borders’ and ‘Draw a red line on immigration or else’ – all Sun front pages under current editor Tony Gallagher!

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