Brexit drama may be playing out all around us but it had its own silver screen moment earlier this week when Channel 4 aired its much-hyped drama, Brexit – The Uncivil War, by acclaimed writer James Graham.
The drama drew heavily on the masterful account of the referendum campaign, All Out War, by Tim Shipman. In some cases, the actors spent time with their real-life counterparts. John Heffernan got to know Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Leave campaign, while Benedict Cumberbatch spent an evening with Dominic Cummings. In each case the actors studied the voice, mannerisms and character of their subject matter – to great effect.
Elliott is a good friend and I can join the Westminster consensus that Heffernan captured him brilliantly. Cumberbatch’s Cummings was exceptionally good, as was Rory Kinnear’s Downing Street comms chief, Craig Oliver. The drama focused on the campaign itself – its early stages, its clashes and its final result.
The policy, politics and process of Brexit’s implementation are being picked over and chronicled on a daily, even hourly basis – and so stepping back to tell the story of the campaign’s lesser known characters provided some much-needed context.
Graham captures the central dynamic that this was a story of underdogs, with a decades-long ambition, finally getting their chance to fight the campaign they've dreamed of and deliver the result that has motivated their political lives.
Some of the more obsessive anti-Brexit pundits would have liked a few scenes showing Vladimir Putin spamming voters with his online trolls while high-fiving Nigel Farage, and they won’t forgive Graham for this omission. But leaving aside the conspiracy theorists, most people who know what actually happened have hailed this film as a great piece of drama – and I'll add my voice to that.
Things are looking up (if you know where to look)
Facts often provide the best antidote to misery. With large parts of society tearing their hair out over Trump, Brexit, populism and climate change, it was supremely refreshing to read a New York Times column this week that made a simple case: 2018 was the best year on record.
Over the course of the year, each day saw (on average) about another 295,000 people around the world gaining access to electricity for the first time, another 305,000 accessing clean drinking water for the first time and an additional 620,000 people getting online for the first time. Little miracles taking place deep beneath the headlines.
As the author Nicholas Kristof puts it, “let’s hit pause on our fears and frustrations and share a nanosecond of celebration at this backdrop of progress.” Reflecting on this quiet wave of general improvement doesn’t mean we can ignore the troubles of our time, but it can at least provide a little light when so many see only darkness.
Every time I don my dinner jacket it seems to have shrunk a little but thanks to a new policy by City of London chiefs I'll be squeezing into it a little less this year.
The Corporation of London has voted in favour in relaxing its dress code at Mansion House dinners. Traditionally black-tie affairs, guests will now be allowed to wear lounge suits. Guildhall banquets and state occasions will retain the white-tie feel, which is quite right, but I welcome the move to tone down some of the other grand City dinners.
Desert island diss
HSBC has whipped up a stir with its latest ad campaign, in which it declares “we are not an island” before listing all the various cultural imports we enjoy from curry to Scandi flat-pack.
Some people have objected to the apparent “anti-Brexit” narrative behind the campaign, but can they really be surprised that “the world’s local bank” is banging the drum for globalism?
The ad can certainly be criticised for being trite and unoriginal, but if you’re shouting at billboards it’s time to take a deep breath and calm down.