Brexit: The Uncivil War

Brexit: The Uncivil War (Channel 4)

Avoiding the B word is going to be a fairly hopeless task in 2019, and this week saw Channel 4 making an early entry into the fray with the help of Benedict Cumberbatch, no less, swapping Marvel’s Doctor Strange for the dark arts of Vote Leave campaign strategist Dominic Cummings.

In Brexit: The Uncivil War, writer James Graham flatteringly portrayed Cummings as the brooding, eccentric genius who set about orchestrating ‘the biggest political upset since the fall of the Berlin Wall’ using a mixture of hard science and brilliant intuition. Always three steps ahead of the pack, and with a withering contempt for anyone who can’t keep step with his racing brain – the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage were portrayed, a little cartoonishly, as hapless, bloviating buffoons – he’s basically the Brexit Sherlock, albeit with less magnificent hair (it was a strikingly vanity-free performance from Cumberbatch on the tonsorial front).

But the really clever – and really scary – bit was the way Cummings was able to harness the power of emerging technology to push a sophisticated fake new agenda, obligingly assisted by foreign analytics firms who, in Cummings’ own words, used ‘British democracy as a lab experiment for data power’. It was like a particularly terrifying and dystopian episode of Black Mirror – except it already happened.

In the opposite corner, Rory Kinnear represented the increasingly frantic voice of Remain as Downing Street communications chief Craig Oliver. Far from being the ‘visionary architect of a new world order’, he saw Cummings as nothing more than ‘an egotist with a wrecking ball’, claiming ‘anyone can start a fire’. And as Brexit began to tear the country apart, Cummings appeared to come to the same conclusion; shaken by the murder of Jo Cox, he took to hiding in the store cupboard, fearing he’d unleashed a monster he could no longer control.

Directed by Toby Haynes (a veteran of both Sherlock and Black Mirror) with the stylish urgency of a thriller, this was a brilliant, vital film for anyone interested in understanding more about the times we live in – whichever side of the Brexit divide you’re on.

 

TV extra:

Catastrophe (Channel 4)

Back for a fourth and (sob) final run, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s gloriously funny and filthy ‘romantic’ comedy looks set to go out on a high. It’s the aftermath of Rob’s drink-driving conviction, and Sharon has him under such close surveillance he feels like the subject of Making a Murderer. He’s also acquired a stalker (the fab Julie Hesmondhalgh), and a neck brace, all of which make normal marital relations… challenging. Gosh, but we’ll miss it.

 

Cleaning Up (ITV)

This new drama finds Sheridan Smith – TV’s go-to face for downtrodden but defiant everywomen – on reliably good form as Sam, a struggling single mum and gambling addict who takes advantage of her zero-hours cleaning contract at a City financial firm to dabble in a little light insider trading (like you do). It’s a highly watchable – if highly unlikely - tale from newcomer Mark Marlow, with strong support from Jade Anouka as Sam’s reluctant partner in crime Jess. 

 

Published in Waitrose Weekend, January 10, 2019

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