Target voters. Divide nation. Disrupt system. Meet the man who altered the history of Britain
Political strategist Dominic Cummings leads a popular but controversial campaign to convince British voters to leave the European Union from 2015 up until the present day.
ActorsStarring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, John Heffernan, Oliver Maltman, Richard Goulding, Simon Paisley Day, Lee Boardman, Lucy Russell, Paul Ryan, Kyle Soller, Liz White, Tim Steed, Kate O'Flynn, Nicholas Day, Tim McMullan, Richard Durden, Gavin Spokes, Ronak Patani, Mary Antony, Neal Barry, Sophie Stanton, Henrietta Clemett, Aden Gillett, Annabelle Dowler, Gabriel Akuwudike, John Arthur, Rakie Ayola, Jay Simpson, Heather Coombs, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Barclay, Ian Morine
According to this movie, the mastermind behind the outcome of the UK’s historic referendum was Dominic Cummings (Benedict Cumberbatch). He apparently pretty much single-handedly strategised and architected the Leave campaign with razor sharp focus on simple messages. Take Back Control: use the money we pay every week to Brussels (£350m) for the NHS instead, and keep immigrants out. In short form: £350m and Turkey.
The movie inevitably presents an unbalanced and overly simplistic storyline, but is interesting to see it from the centre of the Leave campaign. The end justifies the means and if the objective is to leave, let’s find the key triggers that will push the right buttons of the undecided part of the electorate. Since that was about a third of voters, that is a large group to go after. In addition, Cummings somehow made contact with a company asserting to be able to reach voters through social media data mining. They claimed to have identified millions of them, which could help swing the vote. During the Leave campaign they posted a billion personalised ads on Facebook. How legal this was is not made clear in the movie, but Cambridge Analytica is still the subject of multiple legal accusations and investigations linked not only to Brexit, but also to the 2016 US presidential election, and the 2017 Kenyan presidential elections.
The outcome of the Brexit Vote is known of course – even though it is, and already was at the time of the vote, clear that ‘£350m’ and ‘Turkey’ were lies and scaremongering, they were shorthand for what resonated most with the electorate: Take Back Control. A desire to Make Britain Great Again if you will.
It will take decades to see the true effect of this vote, but in the meantime we have this movie to give us some distraction. Benedict Cumberbatch carries the movie with ease – the entire story is about Cummings, and Cumberbatch plays his by now well-honed pained genius effortlessly. It is a bit of a shame that the other players around him are presented as mere caricatures, even if their portrayal does bring a smile to your face. And to be fair, one could contend that people like The Farage and Bumbling Boris are not undeserving of that moniker.
Like Britain at this point in history, the movie isn’t exactly Great. It is not balanced, and cannot be comprehensive and conclusive, as this bit of history is still playing out as we speak: the investigations into the Leave Campaign’s criminality only started after the movie finished filming, and the UK government is currently struggling to deliver Brexit. Whilst not a political thriller, the movie does provide an ‘entertaining’ watch from inside the Leave campaign, as a means to share the film’s bias towards Remain. Worth catching if it passes by on a small screen near you.