So, here’s the scenario. You’re a malcontent who wants to spread political chaos, overturn the established order and bring about a revolutionary change that will unleash social and economic chaos — that’s a hard story plot to pen, right?
No, not if you look at exactly what’s happening now to the United Kingdom as the Brexit deadline looms on March 29.
And yes, life is Britain — at least when it comes to the very story of ‘Brexit’ is concerned — is indeed stranger than fiction.
Maybe, with four weeks to go, it’s too soon to make a movie about Brexit — and no one knows as things stand right now whether it’s an apocalyptic horror, a tragedy, a comedy, a political thriller or a doomsday scenario that unleash zombies to ravage the European Union that’s rife with no customs and free movement rules. But ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ certainly tries to put raw and recent history into perspective.
‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ is a witty and compelling behind-the-scenes exploration of one of the biggest political earthquakes of recent times starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rory Kinnear.
The one-off film follows the Brexit campaign from the perspective of the largely unknown strategists in both the Leave and Remain camps as they plot to gain advantage over each other through advertising and social media activities, while having to deal with the more public role played by politicians jostling for the limelight and each side’s controversial financial backers.
It’s set in the late spring and early summer of 2016 — it seems so long ago now given all that’s happened since then — as politicians campaign on behalf of Leave or Remain, behind closed doors political advisors draw up their battle plans.
The UK government called an all-or-nothing referendum for June 23, to let the UK voters decide if they should stay in the EU or end their more than decades’ marriage to the political, social and economic bloc.
At the heart stands Vote Leave’s steely campaign director Dominic Cummings (Cumberbatch) with his controversial data-driven strategy. Sophisticated algorithms will trawl the darker recesses of the internet to seek out hidden voters. His tactics aren’t popular with everyone.
As traditional eurosceptics clash with modern Brexiteers, the backstabbing and betrayal begins. Whip-smart and funny, ‘Brexit’ offers a fascinating insight into a vote that has not only altered the future for Britain, but also changed the face of global politics forever.
But what made Cumberbatch want to star in a movie that tries to tell the behind-the-scenes story of a vote whose full consequences have yet to be felt?
“It’s great writing,” Cumberbatch says. “Anyone who has read James Graham’s script has said it’s one of the best things they’ve read. When this came along, I instantly knew it was such a damn fine bit of writing. That’s always going to be the prerequisite for choosing a job. So, it was a no-brainer really.”
But Brexit itself is such a divisive topic, one in which viewers have already made up their minds.
“[Brexit is] very much supposed to be a prism on a world, opening the crack of a door to step into the room where it happened,” Cumberbatch says. “It will be far more entertaining than a night in watching the news — and that’s saying something considering what’s on the news at the moment. It will be frustrating, entertaining, occasionally very funny and highly moving. I hope all the things a great drama can be.”
Graham believes ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ is a movie with a very broad appeal.
“It’s not just for policy wonks,” he says. “We forget that beyond the Westminster bubble, the detail of what happened during the referendum campaign is not widely known. People like Dominic Cummings aren’t household names. The idea behind writing this was to get a mainstream audience sucked into this world and learn about what I think is a vital subject. Whatever happened in that crazy year, we will all be living with the consequences for years to come. Chaos and political upset will permeate Western politics for decades. I thought to trace that back to its origins was an important thing to do.”
What does make ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ all the more compelling is that it focuses on the backroom men, not the tragi-comic cast of characters such as David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage that were the face the campaign.
“An early draft of the film took in the Downing Street machine and David Cameron,” Graham says. “But because Vote Leave were the victors, I thought it was more valid to focus on them. Dominic is a self-styled disrupter, and those characters are often the most fun to write. We know about Cameron, Johnson and Farage. But the people who create the messages and decide how to campaign are perhaps more interest.”
BREXIT: CAST OF CHARACTERS
Here’s a look at the real life who’s who in the real-life drama of the decision to leave the EU, portrayed in ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’.
- Mark Dexter as David Cameron: He was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative party who decided to call the EU referendum for June 23, 2016.
- Richard Goulding as Boris Johnson: The colourful former Mayor of London and former Foreign Secretary was the leading campaigner for the Leave side.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings: The 47-year-old is a British political adviser and strategist who served as the Campaign Director of the Vote Leave referendum campaign in 2016.
- Paul Ryan as Nigel Farage: He’s currently a Member of the European Parliament and radio host who led Ukip, the United Kingdom Independence Party whose focus was ending the UK’s membership of the EU.
- Rory Kinnear as Craig Oliver: The 49-year-old is a former news editor producer and media executive and the former director of communications for David Cameron. He led the Remain campaign’s communications strategy for the 2016 Brexit referendum.
BREXIT FOR DUMMIES
Brexit — it’s enough to make your eyes water, turn you into a snivelling mess, or leave you curled in a ball, rocking back and forward muttering insanely things like backstops, customs unions, cherry picking and the Malthouse compromise. Here’s the essentials:
The European Union: It’s a political and economic block that covers 28 nations in western Europe. Once you’re in the club, you can work anywhere else, move freely without visas and very limited passport checks at airports or ports, and you can sell your stuff anywhere else without having to pay customs duties or tariffs.
Brexit: This is shorthand for Britain’s exit from the EU. It’s been a member of the EU and its predecessor, the European Economic Community for 45 years. But as the EU has grown, so too have its powers, and many Britons are unhappy with having to abide by rulings from the European Court of Justice, having to abide by EU law in things like the environment and labour rights. Mostly, they are upset by the large numbers of EU workers, mostly eastern European nations, who have taken low-paying jobs and are changing the nature of UK society.
Ukip: This is the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party, formerly led by Nigel Farage, who pushed for a referendum on the issue.
The referendum: This was held on June 23, 2016. More and 39 million voted. The Leave side won by 51.9 per cent to the Remain side’s 48.1 per cent.
Brexit date: This is due to happen at 11.01pm London time on March 29.
Hard Brexit: This means the UK would leave the EU without a deal in place to soften the economic impact of leaving.
Soft Brexit: This means the UK would leave the EU with a deal in place, softening the economic fallout.
Backstop: It simple means guarantee — a guarantee that the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Irish Republic to the south, which is in the EU, will be “open” — just like driving between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. If that border has checkpoints and customs checks, there are fears it could re-ignite political violence in Northern Ireland. Some 3,600 people died there over three decades of violence between 1969 and 1998.
Article 50: This is the clause in the Treaty of Rome that allows EU members to quit the club. It requires two years of talks, and that process is coming to an end on March 29.
Don’t miss it!
‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ airs in the UAE on March 3 on BBC First at 9pm. BBC First is available exclusively via OSN channel 215 and OSN Play.