Time Trial




David Millar's story as told by filmmaker Finlay Pretsell yields something unusual.

Time Trial

This is no ordinary documentary but a work of extraordinary individuality that may result in a very divided audience response. Central to it is the Scottish cyclist David Millar and his hope in 2014 that he could achieve a success in the Tour de France. His situation was that of a contender who had already triumphed in the race many times over but had subsequently been banned from racing for using drugs to enhance his performance. With the ban ending he is eager for a comeback and is found participating for the Garmin Sharp team in the test runs which, if successful, will lead to his being accepted for that year's Tour de France. 


Cycling is a subject that has yielded a wide range of documentary films from the 1965 classic For A Yellow Jersey to more recent works about individual cyclists such as Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie (2013) and James Erskine's Pantini: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist. The most successful of these have contained sufficient personal drama to engage the interest of those like myself who have no inherent attraction to the sport. In theory David Millar's story, featuring the man himself and a deal of strong language (so much indeed that the film has an 18 certificate), might have fitted that pattern. However, the filmmaker, Finlay Pretsell, appears to have quite other aims. Time Trial emerges first and foremost as an attempt to portray on film what it actually feels like to take part in these long and arduous qualifying events.


To this end Pretsell uses the big screen (photography by Martin Radich) to put the viewer on the road. This move results in moments of camera wobble and variable focus as well as some images that come close to suggesting abstract designs. It is all miles away from television coverage of such events but, rather than making us feel like participants, this approach is so self-conscious that it distracts. If that applies to the visual aspect, even more attention-grabbing is the film's use of music, which is built up as a crucial factor in the movie. I think that some viewers will find this quite splendid, but my own reaction was the opposite: never for one moment did I cease to be aware of Pretsell interposing his own arty ideas thereby making one a distant observer. What Pretsell was doing became far more prominent than what Millar was doing and in my eyes that totally unbalanced the film. But lovers of the sport may respond quite differently, as indeed may some others. Consequently, if Time Trial attracts you, I can only suggest that you see it and decide for yourself: routine it is not.




Featuring  David Millar, Thomas Dekker.


Dir Finlay Pretsell, Pro Finlay Pretsell and Sonja Henrici, Ph Martin Radich, Ed Kieran Gosney and Dino Jons├Ąter, Music Dan Deacon.


Cycling Films/Creative Scotland/Scottish Documentary Institute/CommonGround Pictures-Scottish Documentary Institute.
81 mins. UK/Sweden. 2017. Rel: 29 June 2018. Cert. 18.