Toby Haynes and writer James Graham’s portrayal of events that led up to Britain leaving the European Union made for somewhere between addictive and uncomfortable watching.
I was hooked to Brexit The Uncivil War as soon as the classical strings of Beethoven came blaring over the straight forward introductions of the main culprits responsible for the international political comi-tragedy we see play out in utter absurdity day in day out (aka Brexit).
The show begins with political strategist Mathew Elliot and UKIPs Douglas Carswell meeting at the National Gallery where the first discussions of setting up a Leave campaign take place. This campaign would go on to be run by Dominic Cummings and receive a 7 million pound donation from the government to become the official pro Leave party of the United Kingdom, (and those responsible for that infamous red bus.)
From there the show is like a replicant of Armando Iannucci’s brilliant Thick Of It series (the original and still the best political satire of recent times). Uncivil War is its coked-up hyper cousin, trying to depict the fast and frantic events of what happened in the seven week run up to the notorious referendum vote.
Along the way we meet all the key players – Farage, Johnson, Gove and UKIP donor Aaron Banks (who comes across particularly bad as a vulgar beer swilling idiot). The show is stolen however by Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Dominic Cummings, the brilliant establishment rebel who was behind nearly all the Leave campaign’s major decisions on their route to victory (including that famous slogan; Take Back Control.)
I never used to like Benedict Cumberbatch, but the more I watch him the more I not only respect him but I begin to realise he’s probably the best British actor we have today. Cumberbatch is of a very rare breed who can make the transition between the small screen and the Hollywood blockbuster and back again. His sheer range is astonishing – from Doctor Strange to the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, to Sherlock, to Cummings.
But as astonishing as Cumberbatch’s performance is what is more astonishing is the message of this program. The Uncivil War’s documentation of the biggest shift in how we conduct our political discourse in the history of political discourse. Brexit was the move away from door knocking/ cold calling/ flier handing to online targeting in order to reach voters.
Cummings is the pioneer/anarchist (when you watch the program you’ll realise either are applicable to describe what he started) who embraces the use of Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ: the first companies to quota the British people based on their social media accounts, (creating the most detailed most reachable voting demographic ever produced.)
The show doesn’t celebrate this new dawn of the digital age. In fact it creates a very sad picture and a sad ending to the whole Brexit mess, presenting a new form of politics that no one, the old establishment and the new tech geeks, know how to handle.
All in all The Uncivil War is so much more than entertainment. It serves as both a warning and a fantastic account of events that led to the British public making one of the biggest political decisions in its history. Forgetting the great performances, this alone makes it a must-see.
Catch Brexit The Uncivil War on C4 catch-up now