Kirkby playwright writes controversial Brexit drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch
A Kirkby playwrght is awaiting the reactions to his star studded drama examining how the campaign for Brexit was conducted,
Brexit The Uncivil War has been written by James Graham airs for the first time on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the compelling drama about one of the most controversial referendums in modern British history.
A former Ashfield School pupil whose family still lives in the area, James has seen huge success with his political plays and screenplays.
Speaking on BBC Radio Nottingham this morning, James said:
“I’m incredibly nervous we’ve been working on this for a couple of years.
I’m not unaware of the huge emotions and controversy this issue whips up among families and people.
“We just hope very strongly that a drama can contribute something possibly that news and social media hasn’t yet contributed.
“I believe that storytelling asks the reader and the audience to do something that possibly a Twitter feed doesn’t do - it asks you to follow the motivation of characters . You follow a character whose politics you may disagree with but over a 90 minute film you are asked to just listen understand, engage and possibly even empathise and I think that is what this Brexit debate often misses the most - it’s the empathy to people who are on the other side of the spectrum to you.
“We have had support but I think there has been a huge amount of anxiety that has been expressed my way.
“Some times it has been expressed reasonably with people having questions and other times it has been less polite and people have questioned whether or not I should be doing it.
“I’ve tried top engage but I understand a little bit of what parliament receives when it offers controversial ideas into the ether.
“I wanted it to be for every body - I don’t mind holding my hand up and admitting I voted to remain but a lot of my family and friends voted to leave.
“I come from Ashfield which was a large vote for leave and so I set about just trying to speak to different people and to engage.
“I spent a lot of time with people who ran the Leave campaign predominantly Dominic Cummings who is probably the person who most people are unaware of but was the director of the vote leave and he’s played by the actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Both myself and Benedict went to meet him and engage and listen. He was very generous with his time. It was areal privilege to get access to people who had campaigned to vote in a different way to what I had.
“So I hope both sides, remain and leave get a hearing and both sides are equally prosecuted and challenged for the things that they did.
“He was suspicious of me and understandably so. These people aren’t the public faces of the campaign. When we think of that campaign we might think of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, these are the political strategists who get to stay behind the scenes.
“But in my view they are almost more important than the MPs because they are ones who came up with the strategy and who offered the policy decisions even though technically they are not really accountable.
“It was Dominic Cummings who came up with the controversial disputed £350 million figure for the bus and the slogan ‘Take back control’.
So when we first met him he had some doubts imagining possibly this being Channel 4 and me being a playwright, him imagining I would be a metropolitan elite and possibly it would be a left-leaning stitch up job.
“I told him I was from Nottingham and was a more wholesome lad than that and we started to get on. I just wanted to listen to what he had to say.
“He never asked to see the script and we never showed him a script.
“He never came on set. He has seen no advance preview of the film so I’m not sure what he’ll make of it when he watches it tonight.
“He was very generous and answered our questions when we asked them.
“It is the fine line that art has about how you can responsibly - especially so close to the event - reflect that, whilst also unapologetically creating apiece of art and entertainment.
“I do think there is a value for something that can take the toxicity out of this very controversial debate.
“So in my view it’s clearly when people are behind the scenes, when they are in a private room, that’s when my voice starts kicking in based on the extensive research, showing the script to some of the people who were there.
“Essentially you are imagining what people may have said based on as much research as possible.”
Jame’s past work includes National Theatre production ‘This House’, which is about the struggles facing the Labour government of the late 1970s. It was critically acclaimed and transferred to the West End.
He also worked with Take That’s Gary Barlow on the musical ‘Finding Neverland’
James returned to his roots in 2017 to show his support for Labour candidate Gloria De Piero’s campaign for re-election as MP for Ashfield and Eastwood.
He joined the MP and Labour Party members and supporters as they knocked on doors in Kirkby as part of her re-election campaign.