It was a performance that drew praise from the Prime Minister, who gushed over Benedict Cumberbatch’s “twitching” turn as Julian Assange.
But months before the release of a film charting the highs and lows of WikiLeaks there were mutinous rumblings from within the Ecuadorian Embassy, with the whistleblowing website founder fuming at his portrayal, it emerged.
The full text of an email from Assange to Cumberbatch, titled ominously “Message from Assange” and written in reply to Cumberbatch’s request for a meeting in January, was released and showed how Assange had attempted to derail the production of the The Fifth Estate. The Australian – who reportedly sleeps in a converted bathroom while attempting to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations – said he and actor would “forever be correlated in the public imagination”.
“But I must speak directly,” Assange went on. “I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film.” He added: “I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about. I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about.” He said the film, which charts the rise of the website and its release of cables leaked by Chelsea Manning, was based on a “deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation”. It charts the friendship and then rivalry of Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, played by Daniel Bruhl. He warned Cumberbatch that he would be “used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it”.
Cumberbatch’s performance has been among the few high points credited in a production widely panned by critics. The Independent’s Kaleem Aftab described Cumberbatch’s performance as a “masterclass in mimicry” but said the film was let down “by some clumsy storytelling that trots out all the usual clichés and criticisms”. Assange said: “DreamWorks [the film’s producers] has based its entire production on the two most discredited books on the market. I know the film intends to depict me and my work in a negative light.”
He added: “I believe it will distort events and subtract from public understanding. It does not seek to simplify, clarify or distill the truth, but rather it seeks to bury it. It will resurrect and amplify defamatory stories which were long ago shown to be false.”
Extracts: Assange’s letter
“You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth. Not because you want to, of course you don’t, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched.
Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world. I believe you should reconsider your involvement in this enterprise. Consider the consequences of your cooperation with a project that… marginalises a living political refugee to the benefit of an entrenched, corrupt and dangerous state.”