Brexit: The Uncivil War review – a look back at the campaign that changed UK politics

By Roshan Chandy

Benedict Cumberbatch is a fabulous Dominic Cummings in this Private Eye-worthy pastiche.

Benedict Cumberbatch is cinema’s tortured genius. His roles generally consist of him playing a brilliant, but slightly damaged character. He was that in ‘Sherlock’, he was that as Alan Turing, he was that as Stephen Hawking. He’s extremely good-looking in that extremely asymmetrical, alien kind of way. His unconventional good looks make him brilliant at playing tortured outsiders with a brilliant brain.

Frankly there was no actor better suited to playing the part of Vote Leave supremo Dominic Cummings. Cummings is a political cartoon, a caricature, a Lord Voldemort incarnate. He’s a man with an ingenious mind, but the moral compass of a slippery serpent. He’s the evil genius and criminal mastermind prodding and twisting the Machiavellian knife into the sides of every living politician.

Cumberbatch’s performance as Dom in Toby Haynes’ brilliantly satirical film about the rise of the Vote Leave campaign is a masterstroke in Machiavelli-worthy acting. I’ve always thought Cumberbatch has that uncanny ability to completely disappear into a part and transform his entire appearance. He does this in this film with a receding hairline, a bald patch on his head and an adoption of a slight Geordie accent. By the end of the film, you really feel like you’ve witnessed Lord Voldemort come alive.

It’s a Greek tragedy or Shakespearean tragicomic performance. Cumberbatch really cuts to the heart of what makes Cummings tick. He captures his brilliant brain which cannot be understated given he convinced half of the country to vote to leave the EU. He captures his Lucifer Satan moral compass which resembles that of Adam’s scaly serpent tricking him into eating the forbidden fruit. And he captures the fact that Cummings was a man willing to lie to the public if it meant Britain left the EU.

The rest of the performances are equally superb. I especially loved this film’s depiction of real-life politicians who very much look like Private Eye caricatures. Boris Johnson, for example, is a mop of blonde hair and big belly – a real greased Albino piglet. Michael Gove, on the other hand, is a pompous, private school educated Scottish snake – more slippery than Adam’s serpent. And Nigel Farage is a short, stout man who looks 10 years older than his 57 years of age.

Like Coalition which portrayed the aftermath of the 2010 General Election, ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ is as much a satire as a study and political commentary. All its real-life characters look very much like grotesquely exaggerated political cartoons with their grotesque imperfections scribbled in the backpages of The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian. There’s something very Private Eye about the whole thing which could have easily been ripped from the pages of the latest edition of that brilliantly witty political magazine. It certainly does an excellent job at evoking the farcical nature of so much of today’s post-Brexit politics.

I loved the use of archive footage too. There’s clips of Clive Myrie on BBC News. Of Iain Duncan-Smith and Priti Patel – both rabid leavers – being interviewed on the prospects of Brexit and conjuring up Freudian answers about how Brexit will mean taking back control of our land, our laws and, of course, our borders. The mix of documentary reality and Private Eye fiction works fabulously well. It’s as though Toby Haynes and Writer Jamie Graham are documenting today’s politicians as much as making fun of them and their moral duplicity.

I loved the satire, I loved the politics and I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance. It’s one of his best in the catalogue of damaged geniuses he’s played. ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ is a Machiavelli masterpiece in the making…

Featured Image: House Productions

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