‘We are going to be making decisions based on science and data…’
I’m sure after spending a full day on social media enduring preachy, condescending Remainers and stubborn, triumphant Brexiteers, the thing you want most in the world is a two hour dramatisation of how Brexit was secured. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch. By Channel 4. No?
Dominic Cummings (Benedict Cumberbatch) is either a gifted, political genius or a posturing troublemaker, depending on which side of the political coin you land. Personally, I had never heard of Cummings before watching this film and I would probably say that my life was better off for it. At no point during the long, painful Brexit process have I thought ‘I wish I knew more about how we ended up here?’.
The truth is… I simply don’t care. Politics and politicians have become so indistinguishable that the whole thing is just a bewildering farce. A farce that I have chosen to completely disengage from. As a result of this I came to Brexit: The Uncivil War with no real allegiances with the sole aim of watching an entertaining movie. I was to be disappointed even on that modest ambition.
With a film like this you can go one of two ways on the Kevin Costner scale. Serious biographical drama (JFK) or entertaining but ultimately preposterous popcorn fare (Robin Hood: Price of Thieves). Brexit: The Uncivil War attempts to do both. On the one hand, it is unusual at least to see the working class of this country given a voice. On the other hand however, to have that voice be either shrieking hysterically or demanding that we close our borders to immigration is simply too reductive to hold any weight. This lack of clarity blights the whole production.
In the films lighter moments we are presented with a vision of Nigel Farage and Arron Banks as a pair of cartoonish caricatures, thus ignoring the fact that, like it or not, the former is the mastermind of a revolution in British politics and the latter funded him. These men may seem like a joke to some, but it is Banks and Farage who are laughing the loudest.
Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings as a kind of idiot savant. An overbearing presence who is able to ‘listen’ to the hum of the will of the people by simply putting his ear to the ground. Literally, in some of the films more absurd scenes.
The Uncivil War isn’t a total bust. For all the flaws in the characterisation of Cummings, Cumberbatch is still an appealing onscreen presence. Elsewhere, Oliver Maltman and Richard Goulding have a lot of fun as the beleaguered duo of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson respectively. However, it just isn’t quite enough to justify the films existence.
Ultimately, Brexit: The Uncivil War never serves any kind of real purpose. It doesn’t inform. It doesn’t entertain. It doesn’t educate. The only thing that Toby Haynes film does achieve is adding to the general din of tiresome party politics and nationwide division that will cause yet another generation to become disillusioned and ultimately disinterested in politics. I can’t remember ever finishing a film and feeling quite so depressed.