Entertaining but incomplete, was it irresponsible of Channel 4 to broadcast Brexit: The Uncivil War?
By Joe Harker
Channel 4 broadcast Brexit: The Uncivil War, a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and purporting to show the real story behind the campaign to get the UK out of the EU. It is fiction based on fact, stating that the film is based on interviews with people who were present at the events portrayed.
Those expecting something Armando Iannucci-esuqe such as The Thick of It or his recent film The Death of Stalin will be disappointed. While early parts of The Uncivil War play out like a spoof it quickly gives way to a serious subject material.
The closest thing to a protagonist is Cumberbatch's Dominic Cummings, campaign director for Vote Leave, though that is not to say he comes off as a heroic figure. The film follows Cummings as he pinpoints why people in Britain feel left behind and give a name to their pain, eventually coming up with the slogan of "take back control" to sum up the Vote Leave campaign.
The film contrasts Cummings' modern methods of campaigning, using statistical analysis and targeting disengaged parts of the electorate with help from Aggregate IQ, to the old fuddy-duddy politicians who are certain (but wrong) that they know what they are doing.
Brexit: The Uncivil War is at its best when it shows the political discourse of the UK declining, set to a warped version of Land of Hope and Glory. It does a marvelous job of demonstrating why lies and misleading information are useful campaign tools in modern politics as setting the record straight forces the debate onto favourable ground for Vote Leave.
If you want to know why Brexit happened or Donald Trump got elected the middle segment of Brexit: The Uncivil War where Cummings is pulling the strings of the campaign is a must watch. This is where the fiction based on fact works best, as a more streamlined series of events allows the film to sum up why the Brexit campaign worked.
It is at its worst when bookending the film with Cummings at an inquiry in the future, forced to answer for his part in the Vote Leave campaign, which has been found to have broken electoral law. No such inquiry has been held, despite some in the UK believing there is a desperate need for such a thing.
It is a relevant film but for some watching it is too soon as Brexit is still ongoing and the Leave campaigns have been referred to the police. This is still going on right now, for many viewers it is too close and Channel 4 have been irresponsible to broadcast it.
Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist who has perhaps done most to uncover the breaches in electoral law committed during the referendum campaign, called the film "a compelling work of fiction" but warned that it "whitewashed the corruption". Cadwalladr was asked to be a consultant for the film but declined as it was too soon, with more revelations about the scale of lawbreaking yet to be revealed.
Brexit: The Uncivil War is an entertaining watch but it doesn't tell the whole story. It is fiction based on fact rather than a dramatization of events with no wiggle room for artistic license, a political version of The Big Short, if you will. However, The Big Short was released years after the fact, allowing for plenty of time to view the events in context and work out what really happened. Brexit: The Uncivil War is trying to tell the story while said story is still unfolding. They were always going to miss out on crucial details.