“Everyone knows who won, but not everyone knows how.” -Dominic Cummings.
Next weekend the United Kingdom was due to leave the European Union, but as anybody who even fleetingly follows the news knows, the country has been in a state of disarray.
PM Theresa May, whose leadership is seemingly hanging by a thread, is now pushing for a May exit if an agreement can be reached in the UK parliament.
BBC First has timed Brexit: The Uncivil War for the week of ties cut but ironically that timing looks to be but one of the casualties.
This telemovie, produced by Channel 4, is rather good if the whole sorry saga fascinates you. Moving beyond the politics, into a human drama, is more challenging. The script by James Graham (based on two books) is heavy in backroom negotiations, middle-aged white men and the art of war.
The through-line, thankfully, is Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Dominic Cummings, a high-viz wearing cyclist with a receding hairline who is a determined strategist behind the Leave campaign.
Cummings is a wild card, depicted as bucking the Establishment in his relentless bid to win over the Remain campaign led by Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear). Whilst politicians want to door-knock and hand out leaflets to leave the EU, Cummings taps into the power of digital campaigning.
He meets a young Canadian, Zack Massingham (Kyle Soller) whose AggregateIQ software can bring together Facebook, Twitter and the Electoral poll. This is a battle that will be won not on the streets, but in targeted advertising.
With issues such as the economy, the National Health Service, immigration and the potential of Turkey joining the EU (and thus the possibility of more migrants and refugees), Cummings also hitches his campaign to emotion. There’s also claims of £350m costs each week to be part of the EU.
While the Remain campaign appeals to “heads,” Cummings aims for the “hearts.”
The telemovie also dramatises a rival, second Leave campaign headed by wealthy businessman Aaron Banks (Lee Boardman), mayor Boris Johnson (Richard Goulding) joining the Leave campaign and ongoing frustrations within Craig Oliver’s Remain campaign.
“He’s not the messiah he’s a very naughty f***ing arsehole.” – Craig Oliver.
Rippling underneath the narrative are fears and fatherhood for Cummings, which are somewhat underwritten given his personal life gets limited screen time.
But Cumberbatch is always watchable, spitting out dogma dialogue as required and suitably encapsulating part-genius / part-powderkeg ready to ignite at any moment. Rory Kinnear excels as the reasoned Craig Oliver, whose bright light moment comes as too little, too late. Richard Goulding strikes me as too young, and indeed too trim, as Boris Johnson but he does capture his spirit.
The story’s revelations about targeted advertising in political campaigns is truly scary (hello USA) and as Theresa May might soon discover, Brexit has a sequel that is still playing out.
Brexit: The Uncivil War 8:30pm Saturday March 30 on BBC First.