After watching ‘Brexit: the uncivil war’ I was left with a bleak sense of dread for the future. The Channel 4 production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rory Kinnear depicts both sides of the Brexit campaigns in the lead-up and result of the 2016 referendum.
The film dramatises the questionable strategies that political advisor Dominic Cummings employed as the leader of the Vote Leave campaign. As one of the characters says whilst having a meeting in the portrait gallery – memorable of a similar scene in ‘Skyfall’ – the whole thing has a sense of “tinker tailor” about it. Personally I agree with the sentiment that the whole operation was something of a coup that nobody in British politics paid attention to until it was too late – a kind of rebellion usually reserved for the silver screen.
Throughout the film, Benedict Cumberbatch does a good job of trying to persuade the audience that he is not, in fact, playing Sherlock Holmes. This does slip from time to time – with one sequence having the camera follow his face down to the ground as he lies on the tarmac to go through the earth. Given this surreal divergence from reality, it is clear that there were artistic liberties taken in the script. However, although not exactly as shown on screen, all of the key events in the film did happen. Cummings’ mind palace creation of the “take control” slogan is painfully oversimplified and hints at cinematic embezzlement. Using real news clips from the time does seem to blur the lines between fiction and reality due to the absurdity of the whole event.
In the end, Cummings speaks at a hearing from the Electoral Commission. He speaks of sparking change and needing to clean out a “virus” that has “infected” current politics. And I couldn’t agree more, but surely there had to have been another way.
We have been stuck in a political rut for a long time, only tweaking the way that the country is run; while politicians try to stay as neutral as possible to stay in power. Despite the large change in policy introduced by the 2016 referendum, the system itself hasn’t changed; which means that we are going to be facing the same problem again at some point. The strategy that the Vote Leave campaign used created a storm of hate that had been building slowly over time, unleashed in the form of anti-EU sentiment. Kinnear sums it up well when he speaks of the beast becoming “out of control”. The Vote Leave campaign “lit a fire” and watched, as it consumed the whole UK and divided the nation.
An interesting element of Cumberbatch’s portrayal was that the character did not have political motivation based on policy. Rather, a hatred of the current political climate. This could be why the campaign was lead so effectively, clawing its way to try to win at any cost. The character has no interest in the aftermath or in the effects of leaving other than to persuade more people to vote. So he was able to manipulate “data and statistics” to gain the most votes. Will this be how all elections are run in the future?
Already we can see some people’s views on the film on twitter (one of the platforms that the Vote Leave campaign manipulated): “I won’t be watching anymore. It’s just more biased Remoaners nonsense I bet! #BrexitTheUncivilWar.” and “Holy fuck, I wish I hadn’t watched #BrexitTheCivilWar – I feel like drinking until I blackout. Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliantly written, just depressing as hell.”
In response to the individual complaining about the film being biased, it is important to note that most of the events depicted did happen. There was the £350 million bus, Corbyn was nowhere to be seen, Cambridge A
In response to the other pessimistic viewer, it is not too late. The second referendum is gaining more traction by the day and this is the way to stop the hatred that Cummings engineered to divide us as a nation. The film captured the rhetoric surrounding the debate perfectly with phrases like “project fear”, “racist”, “immigrant”, “£350 million”, “you get things wrong all the time” and “there’s nothing to lose” regurgitated consistently throughout the film. Specifically in the great peer group scene lead by Kinnear’s perfectly exasperated performance.
I am fearful that his craving for a change to politics has already occurred and that “we can’t close the box once its opened”. If this is the case the ‘new’ digital, headline based politics doesn’t look much better than the old cobweb-covered model. The last two US elections were littered with similar disinformation such as the Mexican caravan incident, and Trump’s ties
The only way that I can see to get a second referendum to get us out of this mess is: create a similarly emotional argument. Politics of dry facts and figures are over. The campaign leaders now know they have a much more effective weapon at their disposal, hatred. If the vote leave campaign can use hatred to rally against the EU, future campaigns for a second referendum or remaining in the EU must use similar tactics to focus on the Farages of the world who truly see it as black and white. Only then can the message for a true democracy where the people’s opinion is taken into consideration could come to fruition.
Lucy Mangan said in her more scathing review: “as the title notes, Brexit is a war, and we are only at the beginning” so maybe all attempts to “put it back in the box” are fruitless. Hopefully before May blindly leads us into oblivion by clinging onto the last ounces of power that she has left, we can take back control from our own government.