Brexit: The Uncivil War (2019)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Brexit: The Uncivil War</strong> (2019)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) The Brexit mess has clearly shown the limits of British collective intelligence for almost three years now. You may say that it’s too early to have a look back at the referendum, but considering that the mess shows no signs of abating [January 2020: It actually got wilder in 2019!], now is no worse than last or next year for an incisive take on the events of 2015–2016. Made-for-TV film (originally for Channel 4, brought to North America by HBO) Brexit: The Uncivil War proves to be significantly better than expected not only at presenting the referendum, but explaining how sophisticated modern persuasion techniques have become. This remarkably entertaining look at the Brexit campaign is based on real facts and features real people, but doesn’t settle for a naturalistic style. In the best tradition of British political satire, Brexit: The Uncivil War takes flights of fancy, breaks down complex issues in an accessible way and throws its hands up in the air while wondering how so many people can be so stupid. It certainly helps that Benedict Cumberbach headlines the cast by playing balding political strategist Dominic Cummings as a Sherlock-level genius with an ideological bent toward anarchism. The secret sauce in the film, reflecting real-life events, is the use of targeted advertisements delivered very precisely through web sites—there’s a brilliant five-minute segment in the heart of Brexit that connects the dots on how people can be analyzed and manipulated through algorithms that rival Black Mirror in sheer technological horror. It’s executed with a great deal of cinematic flair, and clever writing certainly helps the film’s narrative move forward. It may focus on a disgusted (possibly remorseful) Leave strategist, but the film seems aimed as Remainers—I certainly found it clever and witty, and I couldn’t be more closely aligned with the Remain side despite being, obviously, just a colonial. Brexit: The Uncivil War is funny yet bitter (the sequences featuring American influences, Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, are portents of much darker forces) and it has things to say that apply well beyond the border of the increasingly not-so-Great Britain.

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