One area the movie doesn't venture into is the vexed question of those rape allegations. "Given the issues swirling around this basic story, that seemed something separate," Condon explains. "Because it's an ongoing story too, you never know what the ending is going to be. And I don't know that it illuminates much. Besides, it's a such a big, incendiary idea to drop into the middle of something like this, isn't it? To do it justice you'd have to spend a lot of time on it, as I think Alex Gibney does beautifully in his documentary."
That film is We Steal Secrets, released a few months ago. I get the impression Condon's keen to scotch any impression that they're rival projects, and thinks long and hard before telling me which film he considers more critical of Assange. "That's a tough one to answer. I really admire that movie, and I'm so glad it exists, because it's everything our movie isn't. If that's the one you want, it's there to be seen. What I'd say is that there might be something more subjective about our point of view, and I hope more psychological."
It's interesting that The Fifth Estate decides to give Cumberbatch's Assange the last word. We see him in his Ecuadorean Embassy confinement, talking straight to camera about being endlessly misrepresented, and casting a mocking verdict on the very movie he's appearing in. The real Assange didn't hide his hostility to the production, even striking up an email correspondence with Cumberbatch to try and get him to pull out. In effect, the British star, whose meticulous performance is the single best reason to see this, became an involuntary middleman between the subject of the film and its makers.
"I mean he's not Daniel Day-Lewis, it's not an absolute Method experience," Condon says of Cumberbatch. "But for someone that committed, here he is, he's in the end of rehearsal, the beginning of shooting. He's channelling Assange, that's his job. And, every morning, from the person he's channelling, all he's hearing is, 'Please don't do this, please drop out, please stop!'. I felt such incredible compassion for him, and it was just this added, huge pressure that he took on, because he did feel very strongly that he had a responsibility to be truthful and also fair to this person."
Make a film about two tech geeks who change the world from small beginnings, but end up at each other's throats, and you're almost bound to invite comparisons to The Social Network, which The Fifth Estate's marketing is certainly keen to play up. "You Can't Expose the World's Secrets Without Exposing Your Own", says one poster, which is awfully, awfully close to "You Don't Get To 500 Million Friends Without Making a Few Enemies." But Condon says David Fincher's film was never an overt model for his own, or "much in the conversation" he'd prefer to point to All the President's Men or The Insider as sounding boards.
Does he feel that Assange has been an important force in reminding established journalists how to do their jobs? "Every so often, the press need to be reminded that it's their role to keep an eye on powerful institutions not to be sleepy, basically. As the money runs out for news organisations, how are you going to define truth, in an age where many people are just looking for stories that confirm their ideology? Those are all big questions."
The Fifth Estate is on release now