A man, a wife, a daughter and a team in the world of Formula One motor racing.



The fact that Asif Kapadia's Senna was an outstanding commercial success as well as being an outstanding piece of filmmaking probably explains why since then other documentaries about racing drivers have come to our screens. Just recently we had McLaren and only slightly further back a film about Tommy Byrne, Crash and Burn, the former concentrating on the subject's career and the latter being wider ranging and a true biopic. Which line is being followed in this new work by Morgan Matthews is less clear-cut.


When approaching this film about Frank Williams, the founder and team principal of a notable Formula One racing team, I took it that the title did indeed refer to him, but that is not the only possibility. Despite starting out as a driver and mechanic, Frank Williams's role, key though it be, has been as the man in charge and not as a racer. Many former team drivers, engineers and designers are interviewed and the considerable race footage could justify the view that the film's title actually refers to the Williams team, to the brand you might say. Although background detail about his early life is included, Frank Williams only truly takes screen centre in the film's second half. It's then that we witness his amazing determination to resume his work after becoming tetraplegic consequent on a near-fatal car accident in 1986 which had illustrated all too well his own unreliability at the wheel.


However, the film throws other elements into the mix too, elements which are often very worthwhile in themselves but which give this a work a decidedly confused focus. The film is certainly a tribute to Williams's wife Virginia who died of cancer in 2013 and whose dedicated care for him after the accident was remarkable (that her husband was an obsessed workaholic who long rated racing as more important to him than his family makes her devotion all the more striking). Then there's the daughter, Claire, who bears striking similarities to her mother and who, at the cost of an uneasy relationship with her brother Jonathan, is now the Deputy Team Principal and consequently one of the most senior women in Formula One racing.


The sense of an uneasy mix is increased in other ways too: once the narrative gets under way it is mainly chronological, yet the film breaks off at times to look at the team's position today; actors are on occasion brought in to portray Virginia Williams and her friend Pamela Cockerill (the latter also a contributor in her own right here); the scene leading to the accident is built up like a fictional film. Indeed, it comes to feel as though it's all over the place - and don't ask me why at one utterly inappropriate moment Vaughan Williams's famous piece 'The Lark Ascending' is heard on the soundtrack. Virginia in conjunction with Pamela did in fact write a book about her life with Frank Williams (A Different Kind of Life) but quoting from it here only serves to suggest that it would offer a distinct and satisfying viewpoint which is exactly what this film fails to provide. However, that's not to say that Williams does not contain much that fascinates and even moments that are compelling despite the fact that it never quite comes together as a satisfactory whole.




Featuring  Sir Frank Williams, Claire Williams, Pamela Cockerill, Sir Patrick Head, Sir Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Alan Jones and the actors Emily Bevan and Jean Funnell.


Dir Morgan Matthews, Pro Sarah Hamilton and Hayley Reynolds, Ph Patrick Smith, Brendan Easton and Morgan Matthews, Ed Johnny Burke, Music Isobel Waller-Bridge, Costumes Barbara Elum-Baldres.


Artificial Eye Film Company/BBC Films/Minnow Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
109 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 4 August 2017. Cert. 15.