Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, John Hefferman
Director: Toby Haynes
Running Time: 92 mins
Brexit: The Uncivil War is a British film about Dominic Cummings, the chief architect of the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum on European Union membership in the UK, and his mission to overhaul all established practices to win.
Tackling contemporary politics is always a minefield in cinema, but taking on a subject like Brexit – still as divisive as ever – is no mean feat. Fortunately, this film delivers a level-headed and impressively objective insight into a number of key themes that surrounded the referendum campaign, proving a thoroughly gripping watch from start to finish.
Rather than simply trying to retread the referendum and try to convince you of the point of view of one side or the other, Brexit: The Uncivil War is more of a meditation on the significance of the events that unfolded in 2016.
An enthralling insight into how convention and established practices in politics and beyond were upended in just a few short months, the film’s core focus is on strategist Dominic Cummings and his outlook on the way that politics can be conducted to maximum effect.
In that, there’s riveting detail on how the Vote Leave campaign used data and information in a way never done before, and while that in itself strikes up long-term complications and further discussions, the film shows just how unconventional and game-changing the campaign was.
Through the first two acts of the movie, that theme of breaking established practices is the central focus, from Cummings’ unorthodox attitude and style to the machinations of the Leave campaign, and the unprecedented way the referendum as a whole panned out.
Steering clear of the core issues and debates of the referendum for the first two thirds, Brexit: The Uncivil War works tirelessly to present itself as a level-headed and objective view on an enormously important but still raw part of modern history.
In that, while opinions remain divided and emotions still run high, this is a film that offers so much to people from all spheres, both those on opposing sides of the vote itself, as well as outside observers and more who aim to further understand the nature of how the referendum unfolded.
The final act is a lot more focused on the debates of the referendum itself, and that is where those with personal feelings on the subjects of polarised politics and all that lies within may be inclined to disagree. However, as the film has already established a level-headed attitude to all its main issues, the way it approaches more controversial subjects doesn’t come across as one-sided, trivialising or deliberately persuasive.
Even in the final act, the central theme of the film remains strong, as we continue to see how an unprecedented approach to politics has unleashed an unpredictable atmosphere and society, again breaking all established conventions that came before it.
Now, away from the film’s narrative and themes, because praise also has to be given to Benedict Cumberbatch for his magnetic performance as Dominic Cummings, as well as director Toby Haynes for that level-headed and captivating approach to tackling such recent events.
The only major issue with the film is that, given that it premiered on television and was aimed directly at British viewers, there are times when it doesn’t quite have enough context for outside observers aiming to learn more about the history.
Again, this film isn’t there to assess the main debates of the referendum, but rather to mark its significance in history. Yet there are times when viewers who didn’t live through the referendum campaign day by day may feel a little lost, missing out on a couple of key flashpoints and themes due to a lack of clear context.
Saying that, however, I was hugely impressed by Brexit: The Uncivil War. A genuinely gripping watch that gives a striking insight into the unprecedented significance of the 2016 referendum and the major themes that ran through it, it’s an enormously impressive take on such a divisive history so soon after the fact.
And with a magnetic lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, strong directing from Toby Haynes and a good eye for detail, it’s a thoroughly engrossing historical drama, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.