Brexit: The Uncivil War
Brexit: The Uncivil War (simply Brexit in the US) is a 2019 British television drama film written by James Graham and directed by Toby Haynes. It depicts the lead-up to the 2016 referendum through the activities of the strategists behind the Vote Leave campaign, that prompted the United Kingdom to exit the European Union, known as Brexit. It aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 7 January, and aired on HBO in the United States on 19 January. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dominic Cummings, the Campaign Director of the official designated Brexit-supporting group, Vote Leave.
|Brexit: The Uncivil War|
|Based on||All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class|
by Tim Shipman
Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit
by Craig Oliver
|Directed by||Toby Haynes|
|Music by||Daniel Pemberton|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Running time||92 minutes|
|Production company||House Productions|
|Original network||Channel 4|
In 2020, at a (fictional) public inquiry, a frustrated Dominic Cummings attempts to explain that they have no understanding of the way in which technology is reshaping politics, and therefore society, in the United Kingdom. In 2015, Cummings rejects an offer by UKIP MP Douglas Carswell and political strategist Matthew Elliott to lead the Vote Leave campaign due to his contempt for "Westminister politics", but accepts when Carswell promises Cummings full control. Cummings decides to use social media and the internet as the marketing rather the traditional campaign of posters and phone-calls/leaflets delivered by local MPs. Cummings rejects an approach by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks of Leave.EU to merge their campaigns, as his data shows Farage is an obstacle to winning an overall majority. Cummings' database-driven approach causes friction with Vote Leave MPs and donors, such as John Mills. Mills, who chairs the Vote Leave campaign, tries to have Cummings fired to merge with Leave.EU, only to be fired himself.
Cummings and his Remain counterpart, Craig Oliver, lay out their strategies and opinion of each other. Both identify the third of UK voters who are still undecided as the key. Oliver identifies "Jobs and the Economy" as their key message, while Cummings believes that the "Loss of Control" and the possible accession of Turkey to the EU is a more common fear concern. Cummings invokes Sun Tzu's The Art of War philosophy as to focus on their own message, which he defines as to "Take Back Control", thus positioning Vote Leave as the historical status quo, and Remain as the "change" option. Cummings meets and hires Canadian Zack Massingham, co-founder of AggregateIQ, who offers to build a database using social media tools of voters who are not on the UK electoral register but are inclined to vote to leave. Meanwhile, Arron Banks meets Robert Mercer, who discusses the potential of social media database tools.
Cummings, using the AggregateIQ database, brings MP Douglas Carswell to Jaywick, a part of his constituency he did not know existed, where a couple articulate the destitution of their position. Oliver, using the traditional focus-groups, realizes that his campaign has failed to understand the concerns of all UK voters, and his staff become demoralized and angry.
In the final stages, high-profile senior Tory MPs Michael Gove and Boris Johnson join the Vote Leave campaign emphasizing the need to "Take Back Control", while Penny Mordaunt raises concerns on BBC over the accession of Turkey. Gove and Johnson have some reticence over specific Vote Leave claims (e.g. £350 million for NHS, and 70 million potential Turkish emigrants) but overcome them. Oliver conducts an emergency Tory-Labour Remain conference call with prime minister David Cameron and Peter Mandelson, but each side blames each other for the Remain campaign's decline. Following the murder of MP Jo Cox, Cummings and Oliver share a drink and discuss events, with Cummings comparing his campaign as having started a train that cannot be stopped, and Oliver replying: "Be careful what you wish for. You won't be able to control it either".
On referendum polling day on 23 June 2016, Britain narrowly votes to leave the EU. After a victory speech, Cummings quietly leaves the Vote Leave campaign office. In the present, Cummings outlines his disappointment at how the political system reacted post the Vote Leave victory, eventually walking out in disgust.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings, main political strategist for Vote Leave
- Rory Kinnear as Craig Oliver, main political strategist for Britain Stronger in Europe
- Lee Boardman as Arron Banks, businessman and co-founder of Leave.EU
- Richard Goulding as Boris Johnson, Conservative MP and former Mayor of London (later Prime Minister) who campaigned for Vote Leave
- John Heffernan as Matthew Elliott, political strategist for Vote Leave
- Oliver Maltman as Michael Gove, Conservative MP who campaigned for Vote Leave
- Simon Paisley Day as Douglas Carswell, UKIP MP who campaigned for Vote Leave
- Lucy Russell as Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner
- Paul Ryan as Nigel Farage, UKIP MEP and prominent Leave campaigner
- Kyle Soller as Zack Massingham, co-founder of AggregateIQ
- Liz White as Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor for The Spectator and wife of Dominic Cummings
- Kate O'Flynn as Victoria Woodcock, operations director for Vote Leave
- Nicholas Day as John Mills, businessman and chairman of the board for Vote Leave
- Tim McMullan as Sir Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP and board member of Vote Leave
- Richard Durden as Sir Bill Cash, Conservative MP and board member of Vote Leave
- Gavin Spokes as Andrew Cooper, political strategist and polling expert for Britain Stronger in Europe
- Aden Gillett as Robert Mercer, US businessman and donor to Leave.EU
- Mark Dexter as the voice of David Cameron, the Prime Minister
- Mark Gatiss as the voice of Peter Mandelson, Labour peer and board member of Britain Stronger in Europe
- Annabelle Dowler as the focus group facilitator
- Gabriel Akuwudike as Robin, the "ardent internationalist" focus group participant
- John Arthur as Roger, the "EU hostile" focus group participant
- Rakie Ayola as Camilla, the "comfortable Europhile" focus group participant
- Jay Simpson as Steve, the "strong skeptic" focus group participant
- Heather Coombs as Sandra, the "hearts vs heads" focus group participant
- Kiran Sonia Sawar as Shamara the "disengaged middle" focus group participant
James Graham, the film's screenwriter, originally wrote a first draft focusing on David Cameron, the UK's prime minister during the vote. However, he then changed it to Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official designated Brexit-supporting group, Vote Leave. In a Channel 4 News interview, Graham revealed that the film was based on the books All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class by Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman, and Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit by David Cameron's Downing Street communications director Craig Oliver, and on interviews with the campaign strategists involved, Cummings in particular. Oliver acted as a consultant on the film. In order to better play lead character Dominic Cummings, Benedict Cumberbatch visited him at his family home.
The film was commissioned in May 2018 by Channel 4 with Benedict Cumberbatch cast to play Dominic Cummings. Filming commenced in June with the supporting cast set, including Rory Kinnear and John Heffernan.
Critic reviews were generally positive after the 7 January 2019 broadcast of the film in the UK by Channel 4. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 7.32/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "With acerbic wit and a mesmerizingly eccentric performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, Brexit energetically renders recent history with unflinching poise." Metacritic reports a weighted average score of 73 out of 100 based on 12 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Asa Bennet of The Daily Telegraph gave the film five out of five stars, calling it a "thrilling romp through the referendum" and praised Cumberbatch's performance as Cummings, comparing it to his role as Sherlock Holmes in the TV series Sherlock. Will Gompertz of the BBC gave the film four out of five stars and called the film "a very watchable TV movie that has a clear structure and a well-defined plot" and called Cumberbatch's performance "compelling". Carol Midgley of The Times gave the film four out of five stars stating, "Brexit without the boring bits is a blast". The Independent's Hugh Montgomery gave the film four out of five stars and praised Cumberbatch's acting, comparing it to both Sherlock and The Social Network. Peter Crawley in the Irish Times gave the film five out of five stars and called it a "political tragicomedy with the verve of a tech thriller", and that "it drips with great British humour". Suzi Feay in the Financial Times gave the film five out of five stars calling it: "An exhilarating, almost farcical dramatisation of 2016's successful Vote Leave campaign and its Machiavellian director", and "The only hindrance to enjoyment is the fact that we are all now living in the chaotic reality dreamt up by the diamond-eyed ideologue".
Lucy Mangan of The Guardian was very critical of the film, only awarding it two out of five stars, and calling it "superficial, irresponsible TV" and criticised the depiction of Nigel Farage and Arron Banks as "cartoonish buffoons instead of dangerous shit-stirrers".
British playwright and non-fiction author Sarah Helm, praised the film in The Guardian saying: "Nor has any piece of journalism bettered Graham's focus-group scene in portraying how the poison of Brexit has set ordinary people against each other, or exposed how easily our feeble leaders were led by opportunistic apparatchiks". Alice Jones in The New York Times said that "Brexit Is Dividing Britain. So Is a Brexit Movie". Charles Moore wrote in The Daily Telegraph that the film "told a story of forgotten people finding their voice".
On 4 January 2019, Matthew Elliott, played in the film by John Heffernan, wrote an article about the film in the Financial Times summarising that "Whatever happens, the 2016 campaign marked an important moment, and the film captures it well". Cummings' wife, Mary Wakefield wrote in The Spectator that Cumberbatch's portrayal of her husband even fooled their own son. The Guardian quoted Peter Mandelson (briefly portrayed on a conference call), as saying "The film is extraordinary", and "It presses every button and captures Britain at the time".
- Pemberton, Daniel [@DANIELPEMBERTON] (17 December 2018). "So here's something else I did recently with the brilliant Toby Haynes who directed #USSCallister episode of #BlackMirror." (Tweet). Retrieved 21 December 2018 – via Twitter.
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- Carol Midgley (8 January 2019). "TV review: Brexit: The Uncivil War ★★★★☆". The Times. Archived from the original on 8 January 2019. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
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- Mangan, Lucy (7 January 2019). "Brexit: The Uncivil War review – superficial, irresponsible TV. ★★☆☆☆". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 8 January 2019. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
- Sarah Helm (10 January 2019). "Brexit: The Uncivil War proves Hamlet right: the play's the thing". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 11 January 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
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Screenwriter James Graham has turned the campaign into a compelling story — and nailed my mannerisms
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