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You Don't Know Me and The Cult of Conspiracy: QAnon

Benjie Goodhart / 02 December 2021

You Don't Know Me is a four-part drama series telling the story of a young car salesman accused of murder and The Cult of Conspiracy deals with the bizarre world of QAnon.

Hero (Samuel Adewunmi), Kyra (Sophie Wilde) in You Don't Know Me || Image credit: BBC

You Don’t Know Me, Sunday 5th December, 9pm, BBC One

One of my all-time favourite films is 12 Angry Men. I think I first saw it 35 years ago, when I was around 14. If you’d asked me, at the time, if I wanted to sit down and watch a black-and-white film where all the action takes place in a single room, and consists entirely of a bunch of men having an argument, I would have looked at you like you’d just offered me an unnecessary dental procedure without anaesthetic. My idea of a film back then involved explosions, shoot-outs, and a minimum of two car-chases. But my dad had suggested it to me, and as he’d also introduced me to Some Like It Hot not long previously, I thought I’d trust his judgement.

If you’ve never seen it (what HAVE you been doing all these years?) it follows a jury gathering to reach a verdict on a seemingly open-and-shut murder case, where one juror (Henry Fonda) demurs and asks the other 11 (increasingly frustrated) good men and true to look at the facts again.

I was reminded of 12 Angry Men at the beginning of this new four-part drama for BBC One. Hero (Samuel Adewunmi), a young car salesman, is in the dock, accused of murder. As the prosecution sums up the facts of the case, it seems impossible that he’s not guilty. Except, of course, that this is a four-part drama, so unless we’re about to spend four evenings watching a bloke slopping out, something unexpected is going to happen. Or, rather, not so unexpected.

And so it transpires. Facing a seemingly hopeless situation, Hero (who was advised by his counsel not to testify at his own trial) fires his lawyer and gives his own closing remarks. As he addresses the jury and fights to prove his innocence, we are shown via a series of flashbacks what happened.

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It all sounds frightfully predictable, and in many senses, it is. But it is also done with so much passion and beauty that you don’t really mind. Adewunmi, with whom I was previously unfamiliar, is absolutely electrifying as Hero – the kind of performance that you fully expect to see rewarded when awards season comes around.

Equally mesmerising is his girlfriend Kyra, played with luminous brilliance by Sophie Wilde. As the story unfolds, we see how their relationship unfolds, and it is portrayed with real tenderness and touching sensitivity. You can almost feel that visceral sense of excitement that only exists at the start of a relationship, where you feel like your entire life had built up to this moment.

The script, by Tom Edge (based on the novel by Imran Mahmood), handles everything from love to rage, and desperation to menace with absolute confidence and realism. It shows how a normal life can be turned upside down, and how unexpected events can cause people to behave in ways that they would normally find abhorrent.

Ultimately, this is a story of a man fighting for his freedom. You can feel his desperation as he frantically tries to persuade the jury that this isn’t yet another case of one black man murdering another. That he isn’t just another kid from an estate who messed up. That he doesn’t tie in with all their preconceived notions. That, as the title suggests, they don’t know him.

The Cult of Conspiracy: QAnon, Tuesday 7th December, 9pm, Channel 4

For as long as I can remember, politicians in this country (and, I suspect, most other countries), have been lampooned as idiots, crooks, charlatans, self-interested megalomaniacs lining their own pockets, or deluded fantasists out of touch with the real world. This peculiar cynicism regarding public servants is both baffling and deeply unhealthy – if you demonise people consistently and vehemently enough for long enough, you end up with Jo Coxes and Sir David Amesses lying dead in the street or in their constituency surgery.

And you get QAnon.

QAnon is an utterly insane, dangerously extreme political movement in America that has grown a bizarre traction since 2017. In October of that year, a supposed ‘government insider’ (yeah, right) calling him or herself QClearancePatriot began posting baseless claims and delusional conspiracy theories on a website called 4chan. And people – or at least, a gullible or vulnerable or angry or disenchanted sizable minority of them – simply ate this stuff up like it was gospel truth.

In this frankly jaw-dropping documentary, film-maker Benjamin Zand criss-crosses America to investigate the QAnon phenomenon, meeting supporters, proponents and leaders of the movement.

If you’re unfamiliar with QAnon – and frankly, lucky you – they believe that a secret cabal of governments, monarchies and the Vatican are running a global paedophile network, trafficking millions of children around the world. They also believe that Covid was a planned pandemic, and that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged.

Zand’s travels bring him into contact with people like Dustin Nemos, an early Q adopter, who believes that Barak Obama is a child molester and that Michelle Obama is a man. Honestly, I’m not making this up. And – here’s the kicker – he is planning to run for Congress.

And the insane thing is, it’s not that insane an idea. Marjorie Taylor Greene was elected to Congress in Georgia espousing QAnon views. And Zand encounters Roger Stone – known as the kingmaker of American politics for his roles in getting various republicans into the White House – at an event filled with QAnon supporters.

At the same event, Zand is granted an interview with Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor, who may harbour ambitions to run for the presidency. It’s fair to say, the interview doesn’t go well, and Zand and his team are escorted unceremoniously from the premises.

But the tragedy here is the vulnerable people caught up by the movement. Zand meets the family of Neely Petrie-Blanchard, who began to disappear down the lunatic QAnon cul-de-sac after she lost custody of her kids. Eventually, her beliefs fed a paranoia that became so all-encompassing that she committed murder.

And, inevitably, this toxic movement is starting to gain traction in the UK as well. QAnon posters have started popping up at anti-vaxxer demonstrations and the like. Zand goes to meet Kate Shemirami, a former nurse who lost her licence to practise in 2020 for misconduct. She has compared NHS workers supplying the vaccine to Nazi war criminals. I had the dubious pleasure of seeing her campaigning on the streets of Brighton recently, where she was speaking outside a vaccine clinic. Happily, those looking on consisted largely of unimpressed teenagers openly laughing at the absurdity of her arguments.

Zand’s documentary is eye-opening, and makes for grimly fascinating and depressing viewing. QClearancePatriot stopped posting in December 2020, but their twisted legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of a disturbing number of people. If you think our politicians are bad now, just wait and see what the future may hold if this shower get a foot in the door.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 4th December

48 Hours to Victory, 7:40pm, Channel 4: Dermot O’Leary is the unlikely presenter of this new documentary series looking at the key 48 hours that made the difference in some of Britain’s most significant battles, starting tonight with the infamous events at Dunkirk in 1940.

Princess Margaret: A Scandalous Affair, 8:40pm, Channel 5: A one-off documentary examining Princess Margaret’s marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones, who was the first non-aristocrat to marry into monarchy for 400 years. Featuring the usual roster of royal experts and ‘friends’.

Sinatra: King of the Crooners, 9:40pm, Channel 5: Feature-length documentary following the extraordinary life of Frank Sinatra, examining his humble origins, his stellar career,  his affairs with some of the world’s most beautiful women, and his purported links to organised crime.

Sunday 5th December

Britain’s Favourite Toys 1/3, 8pm, Channel 5: This new three-part series runs the rule over the nation’s favourite toys over the years, beginning tonight with the best toys from the 1970s, including Evel Knievel’s wind-up bike, as well as British classics Sindy and Action Man.

Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Kate Garraway, 8pm, ITV: The Marmite TV presenter interviews Kate Garraway about her career, family, and the tragedy of her husband Derek Draper’s continuing battle with the effects of Covid. This is Morgan’s last ever ‘Life Stories’, after which he will hand the reins over to… Kate Garraway.

Michael Crawford: Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, 9pm, Channel 5: Profile of the extraordinarily versatile actor, whose career encompassed everything from physical comedy to musical theatre, and who, to a generation, will forever be Frank Spencer.

Monday 6th December

Live: Winter on the Farm, 8pm, Channel 5: Helen Skelton and Jules Hudson are live from Cannon Hall Farm over the next four nights with brothers Rob and Dave Nicholson, as they prepare their livestock for the harsh winter ahead.

Tuesday 7th December

Costa Concordia: Why She Sank 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: First in a two-part series (concluding tomorrow) looking at the fateful events that led to the sinking of the ocean liner in January 2012, with the loss of 32 lives.

Wednesday 8th December

Dolly: the Sheep That Changed the World, 9pm, BBC Two: Documentary telling the story of the first mammal to be cloned and the impact this monumental scientific achievement in 1996 had on the world.

Thursday 9th December

The Stonehenge Enigma: What Lies Beneath? 9pm, Channel 5: Rob Bell presents this feature-length documentary looking at the 4,500-year-old monument and examining the significance of a much larger monument recently discovered under the soil in the area.

Friday 10th December

Grayson’s Art Club, 8pm, Channel 4: One of the defining programmes of 2020 was Grayson Perry’s series that encouraged viewers to express their creativity during lockdown. Now, he is about to open an exhibition of their work in Bristol.

Vienna Blood 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: A welcome second series of the psychological drama following police investigations on 1900s Vienna. Tonight, a Hungarian Countess commits suicide… or did she?

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