James Delingpole

Why should we listen to Benedict Cumberbatch on Syrian refugees?

5 November 2015

3:00 PM

5 November 2015

3:00 PM

Because I just don’t know what to think about the Syrian refugee crisis — not even after Simon Schama’s powerfully cogent argument on Question Time the other week, where he explained that if you don’t want to house them all in your guest bedroom you’re basically a Nazi — I thought I might pay the scalps a couple of hundred quid or so to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican.

Apparently the really exciting bit isn’t anything he does as the Dane but rather Shakespeare’s rarely performed postscript where Hamlet comes back to life in the terrifying form of a preening, hectoring Old Harrovian luvvie to berate the groundlings for their uncaringness. ‘A pox on the politicians!’ this apparition is wont to declare, more frightful than anything glimpsed earlier on the battlements of Elsinore. And even if you didn’t have a strong view before on those Syrians, you will by the time the collection bucket is rattled menacingly beneath your nose. Simply seeing Cumberbatch, all quavery and exquisitely modulated and indignant, is enough to dispense any doubt. As Homer Simpson almost once said: ‘Luvvies. Is there anything they don’t know?’

Well I can answer that. No there isn’t. I’ve learned from the newspapers, from the TV and social media that there’s not a single problem in the world, great or small, for which the luvvies don’t have the definitive answer.

Ever been struck by the fact that from Jane Austen adaptations to Poldark to Pointless, there aren’t nearly enough black and ethnic minority characters on TV? Well you’re bloody right. Former New Faces and Tiswas star Sir Lenny Henry says so. And it’s not about ‘tokenism’, God no. It’s simply about ‘driving up quality’.

What about ‘ravishing’ — is that a world we should still use? Not according to highly principled linguistic arbiter and sometime Scottish comic Frankie Boyle. He has been looking into its root derivation and was appalled by what he discovered: it’s a bit ‘rapey’, he once warned his nearly two million Twitter followers.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic? ‘A monumental act of selfishness and greed,’ says Emma Thompson — and she should know: she once played Harriet Pringle in the BBC TV adaption of Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War. Opposite Kenneth Branagh no less.

Fracking? Only the worst thing ever. Just ask the experts, like Dame Vivienne Westwood, who thought up the genius idea of putting safety pins and lots of extra zips, accessorised with dog collars, on outfits worn by people like Sid Vicious in the late 1970s.

Women’s pay inequality? An absolute blooming disgrace. Never mind the fact that in the West, women below the age of 40 are on absolute wage parity with their male counterparts — Emma Watson knows there’s still something scandalous going on, as you totally would if you’d been Hermione Granger in no fewer than seven Harry Potter movies.

Press freedom? Overrated. A bloody nightmare in fact. Just ask the guy who made his name saying ‘fuck’ a lot at the beginning of Four Weddings and A Funeral and has totally no axe to grind about the tabloid press after what happened that time in LA with a hooker called Divine Brown. And if you won’t take his word for it, ask Alan Partridge.

Traitor Edward Snowden? Oh puh-lease. Not a traitor at all, actually, but a bastion of free speech against the sinister authoritarian power nexus of the surveillance state. Susan Sarandon thinks so: she was Janet in Rocky Horror. So does Russell Brand, and he has, like, shagged everyone, presumably including his more famous ex-wife, Katy Perry.

Obviously I could go on like this for days, except the relentless sarcasm has started to exhaust me. And it’s not that luvvies have strong opinions that bothers me — of course they do: they’re articulate, passionate people with a powerful media presence. Rather it’s that all the opinions they have tend in exactly the same wearisomely predictable political direction, and also that this can have a tainting effect on their work — at least for those of who don’t share their smug liberal-lefty Weltanschauung.

I appreciate that this is not a new or original point. But I’m feeling it particularly strongly, having just endured the new James Bond, which in my view is yet another victim of this pernicious, creeping luvvification. In the era of Live and Let Die, Bond was charmingly innocent, brainless and delightfully un-PC. Now, though, the franchise has been hijacked by Sam Mendes, a luvvie with a first-class degree in English from Cambridge, and suddenly we’re supposed to see Bond and the various villains as emotionally conflicted characters with rich inner lives. Killing baddies and shagging top totty is no longer clean innocent fun: everything has to be psychoanalysed and made ‘relevant’ — like those ghastly modern-dress productions of Shakespeare which I’m going to ban when I’m your benign dictator.

Of course, if we went back in time and met the luvvies of yore, I’m sure they would have been just as insufferable. Wordsworth and Coleridge, say: once we’d heard them sing the praises of the marvellously bracing French revolution, we would never have been able to stomach another word they wrote. But the difference was that in the old days the opportunities for luvvies to promote their tediously wrong opinions were so much fewer and farther between. Also, I suspect they had a better idea of their proper place.

You can’t imagine Edmund Kean coming on after Hamlet to give his audience an earful on what he thought of the Corn Laws. And had he done so, I like to think his paying customers would have shown more mettle than the ones who nightly allow themselves to be bullied by the Cumberbatch. Mummers are great and I love them dearly, but just because they can talk posh, quote Shakespeare and pretend to be whatever you want them to be, doesn’t mean they’ve anything worth saying.

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