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TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War

REVIEW

Brexit: The Uncivil War (C4)

★★★★✩

IF YOU had to name the mastermind behind the victorious Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, who would you come up with? Boris Johnson? Michael Gove? Nigel Farage? Nope — all bit part players in the pantomime. Step forward Dominic Cummings. No, me neither.

But according to James Graham’s razor-sharp analysis of the referendum that has shaken British politics to the core, it is the name of the Vote Leave campaign director that should loom large in history — even if he is much too clever to put himself in the firing line.

Played with slippery intensity in an inspired performance by Benedict Cumberbatch (pictured), Cummings emerges as a ferociously intelligent, socially prickly maverick fired up by a sense of indignation that his genius has been passed over by inferior minds (the rest of the world).

The trick here was that, surrounded as he was by babbling politicians, you could see where Cummings was coming from.

For those of us with Brexit fatigue, fearful that it was too soon to dramatise this crisis, it is worth noting that Graham’s story wisely steers clear of the rights and wrongs of the argument. That really would be too soon. Instead the script burrows deep into the seismic shift that social media — and those who manipulate it — is having on politics.

Cumberbatch’s Cummings catches on with lightning speed that we are all now slaves to the algorithm, and cannily targets voters the opposition did not even know existed. It was impossible not to be both impressed and appalled as we watched him turn the voting tide with a social media war based on soundbites and subliminal advertising on Facebook.

As a TV drama, it has flaws. More background on Cummings would not have gone amiss. But as a lesson in the new politics this is both chilling and compelling. The revolution has happened without us even noticing.