Brexit: The Uncivil War shows triumph of data men – and so do the supposedly creative ads

The data men were at it again in last night’s Channel 4 Brexit drama, Brexit: The Uncivil War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings. Although quite what AggregateIQ (which had links to disgraced Cambridge Analytica) did remained something of a mystery.

At one point the programme averred that they had served a billion ads (on Facebook presumably) to potential ‘Leave’ voters although one can’t imagine many of the older, northern-based voters who voted for Brexit being Facebook fans – but maybe they are.

For all that it was interesting, quite gripping in places and hardly deserving of the Guardian’s verdict that it was “superficial” TV.
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The depiction of Brexit backer Arron Banks and Nigel Farage was, indeed, cartoonish and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove weren’t much better – but maybe they are cartoon characters. Cumberbatch’s Cummings was compelling though, although one wanted to know where this extraordinary character sprung from and why he was given so much power to run the Leave campaign. For a policy wonk he seemed a remarkably prosperous one, meeting the Leave campaigners in his posh Loindon house (about £3m I’d guess.)

Remain’s Craig Oliver, played by Rory Kinnear, usually depicted as even more clueless than the rest of the David Cameron camp, emerged as the unlikely hero, mustering a few principles. That might have been because he was losing.

It was also disturbing to see politics so dominated by un-elected political advisers. Many MPs may be stupid but at least you can vote them out.

So congratulations to C4 for spending some money on something that wasn’t a police procedural although its efforts to get some of it back were predictably annoying. As ever with such high profile productions it was packed with ads, to the point at which the narrative flow was fatally interrupted.

And what a miserable lot they were. Apart from the excellent Vauxhall ‘All Griffin. No Bull’ ad and half marks for First Direct and some mattress or other (which had at least engaged the attention of an art director) this mini-Super Bowl opportunity was blown. Maybe advertisers and agencies these days are too busy trying to reach people on Facebook to create.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.