“Brexit: The Uncivil War” is slickly directed by Toby Haynes, one of the more talented of the sort that hangs around glossing up BBC fare like Doctor Who, and who’d previously glitzed up the striking Black Mirror riff on Star Trek, “U.S.S. Callister”.
Haynes doesn’t hide how much he models the film after “The Social Network”, sexying up the byzantine politics and inscrutable protagonist with graphical flair, multitude upon multitude of crossediting montages, lots of on-screen overlaid sight gags and the like. He also takes a surprisingly withdrawn approach to the actual subject of the film, for the bulk of the runtime letting the characters do the talking and elaborating little in the way of moral messaging beyond occasional pushes towards fiction, like letting opposing characters have oddly intimate conversations where they can trade and bat their contrasting views. He – or the screenwriter, rather – even adds an ambiguous sort of theatrical element, namely a inarticulate buzzing the protagonist can hear swelling until the actual referendum results are declared, where it abruptly ceases. What does it represent? The unheard masses whose stances were misrepresented both out of intent and ignorance? The hitherto mostly-ignored transformative power of new technology, social media manipulation, analytics upon political outcomes? The shadowy figures and organisations using political battlefields as testing grounds for such technology? The film wisely doesn’t say.
The film looses a lot of restraint in the final scene, where – perhaps out of desire for a more conventional narrative, perhaps out of desire to make a moral point, perhaps to give its protagonist some manner of characterisation – a fictitious speech filled with regret and self-awareness and prophesying is delivered. Cumberbatch is basically flawless, as to be expected, but the odd contrivance (even without knowledge of the actual event, or lack thereof, it sits very oddly in the film) makes one ponder more on just how much of the film worked just because of his skillset.
It’s glossy, and pulses along at a nice enough beat, but doesn’t say much in the end. Two and a half ads, and a fictional speech.