Brexit: The Uncivil War

2019 | Dir: Toby Haynes | Wri: James Graham | UK

Screenshot from Brexit: The Uncivil War

Brexit: The Uncivil War is an interesting film in that we get to see a glimpse of what perhaps went on behind the scenes. And for most of us, it might be the first time we really got to know Dominic Cummings (played here by Benedict Cumberbatch), who is the current advisor to the prime minister. My impression of Cummings, at least visually, was that he is the maverick pseudo-politician who refuses to wear the striped suits that is the uniform of Westminster. His ideology, from media, appears to be that of another bloodthirsty neo-con.

Whilst playing a little bit like The Social Network in its treatment of what it means to manipulate people, Brexit the film only manages to scrape the surface of what this all meant for the country. Yes, the focus is on Cummings and the official campaign to leave the European Union which he was running, but the real drama lies elsewhere. And when the film goes on to the street and talk to the ‘normal people’, it shows that it’s only trying to be as subtle as a bugle in a library (I think I’m overusing this metaphor, but whatever). Cummings, meanwhile, doesn’t come across as this genius strategist, but just a mean bastard that knows how to use a whiteboard (and never update it — that’s not very agile).

The film does manage to hit a couple of nice notes though, like when Rory Kinnear’s Remain campaign leader Craig Oliver and Cummings having a pint at the pub after MP Jo Cox’s assassination — I thought that was the best scene in the whole film. The rest of the film sometimes borders on pastiche — the bits with actors playing Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are nothing more than a bad SNL skit.

Films about contemporary events (and public figures) rarely do well (The Social Network being an exception), mostly because the hindsight adds more nuance to the drama. In fact the ‘flashforward’ scenes here do nothing but tarnish the film, even if it does resonate with what is still likely to happen. Yes, I’m biased here.

The trauma the country went through, and us remainers still go through, is far more dramatic than anything that a film can capture.