If you've spent any time on social media over the weekend, you've probably encountered the outcry over Brexit: The Uncivil War, the Benedict Cumberbatch-led Channel 4/HBO drama focused on Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave campaign. As the Radio Times reports, HBO released their first full-length trailer for the show on Friday, December 14 — and it was promptly met with significant criticism, with many querying the ethics of dramatising the Leave campaign before its legality has been thoroughly investigated. Managed to miss the online debate? Here's how to watch Brexit: The Uncivil War in the UK — and why it's sparked so much controversy.
According to the Radio Times, the series will air on Channel 4 in the UK first: on Monday, January 7, at 9 p.m. The U.S. air date is almost two weeks later, on January 19, when it will screen at 9 p.m. on HBO. Cumberbatch plays Cummings, the chief strategist of the Vote Leave campaign, while it's directed by Sherlock's Toby Haynes and written by playwright James Graham.
Channel 4 described the drama thus: "At a time when explosive revelations about the mining of personal data and the corrosive effect of fake news and micro-targeted advertising through social media feeds are at the forefront of the news agenda, Brexit explores how modern data-driven campaigning techniques contributed to one of the most unexpected, highly-charged and controversial decisions in modern political history."
“Everyone knows who won, but not everyone knows how,” says Cumberbatch’s Cummings. The trailer sees him tailoring his campaign to potential voters' racism and xenophobia, while an unnamed "software expert" demonstrates how to exploit social media. "We have to hack the political system," Cummings says.
As Vox reports, Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr led online criticism of the trailer, tweeting at HBO, "Imagine if we did this for Trump right now. You are literally interfering in our criminal justice system." (Cadwalladr has since deleted several of her tweets, writing, "I meant no criticism of James Graham. I'm just hugely frustrated by ongoing cover-up by govt & opposition. Fiction difficult in absence of basic facts.")
She also noted that Cummings refused to appear before parliament during the "fake news" inquiry, while police are still attempting to determine whether the Leave campaign he led broke the law. Cadwalladr's previous reporting into the Vote Leave campaign has indicated that it unduly influenced the Brexit referendum result, while, as Vox points out, she's also called for a major UK inquiry into the campaign, similar to the Mueller investigation of Trump.
Others suggested that the Channel 4/HBO drama was unethical, while one Twitter user wrote, "Dear HBO — it’s a bit irresponsible to release a disaster movie when we’re still in the middle of the disaster."
Writer James Graham responded to the criticism on Twitter, saying, "A lot have seen the trailer for our Brexit film & I can’t wait to engage reasonably to curious Q’s once it’s actually been seen." He added, "Until then, abusive language & misinformation should never intimidate writers/artists working on politically sensitive themes." Neither HBO nor Channel 4 have responded to a request for comment.