In Depth

Brexit: The Uncivil War - fiction or fact?

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Vote Leave mastermind Dominic Cummings in new Channel 4 film

A one-off drama about the events on both sides of the Brexit campaign in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum will air on Channel 4 tonight - and commentators are poised to assess the accuracy of the portrayals.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Brexit: The Uncivil War as Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings, while Richard Goulding (The Windsors) plays Boris Johnson and Oliver Maltman (The Crown) plays Michael Gove.

The dramatisation focuses on Cummings as he goes head-to-head with the government-backed Remain campaign, led by Downing Street director of communications Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear).

Brexit: The Uncivil War writer James Graham insists it is not a documentary but says he used interviews, blogs and books to guide his script, says The New European.

“His forensic questioning even went as far as asking what biscuits were served in focus groups during the campaign,” adds the newspaper.

In an article in The Spectator, Cummings’ wife, Mary Wakefield, reveals that Cumberbatch spent an evening at their home in June to prepare for the role over vegan pie. She initially feared that the pro-Remain actor had taken the part “for the same reasons Ralph Fiennes took on Voldemort” in the Harry Potter films, but was assured that he had signed up because of the script.

Indeed, Cumberbatch tells The Independent: “This is about a specific aspect of the referendum campaign. It’s about revealing and unearthing that.

“It is not about how to solve it or what went wrong or right, it’s just about how those moments occurred. It doesn’t lecture. It’s not censorious, and it’s certainly not didactic.”

Lucy Thomas, former deputy director of the Remain campaign, says that watching the film brought her experiences “flooding back”. She told BBC Two’s Politics Live that Graham had captured accurately the relentlessness of campaigning and the way in which the Leave campaign had harnessed its arguments to win voters.

Shahmir Sanni, a former Vote Leave volunteer who turned whistle-blower over the campaign’s spending rule breaches, says the film also offers “pretty accurate impersonations” of the central Brexiteers.

However, Sanni believes there should have been more focus on the illegal activity that took place, telling The Observer: “An electoral scandal on a scale we have never seen before has been largely ignored.”

Andrew Rawnsley, the newspaper’s chief political commentator, notes that more of these details came out after filming had ended. “Caption cards with the end credits have to be employed to fill some of the holes, which is never satisfactory,” he says.

But for Rawnsley, the main problem with the drama is the way in which politicians such as Johnson and Gove are “reduced to bit parts and comic cameos”.

“This is funny but also rather absolves these senior Tories of their moral responsibilities for what was perpetrated by the Leave campaign,” Rawnsley argues.

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