Review: Senna

Posted on June 6, 2011


Senna, the acclaimed biographical documentary of Ayrton Senna, is as an inspired piece of film making as anyone is likely to see this year.

Senna is currently on release at cinemas across the UK.

Every image in the film is contemporary to Senna, blended seamlessly together with his own interviews, those of his colleagues and rivals and modern reflections of the key players. The archive access given to director Asif Kapadia was key and he has taken full advantage. Having Senna narrate large parts of the film could have been odd but it never is.

The story is at once inspiring, moving, thrilling, harrowing and exciting. For a Formula One fan aged 25, much of the background and context is new even if the tragic end is familiar to all. It’s a fascinating look at the past of a sport for which I have only really come to understand in the past decade.

The rivalry between Senna and Alain Prost, particularly in their McLaren years, is grippingly told. The footage of the pair charging around the circuit is extraordinary. On board shots from the cars in the 1980s and 1990s show how much has changed and how much is the same.

And the film lays bare the off track politics which have for so long tainted Formula One.

Kapadia pulls no punches. The images are often brutal. The final sequences, following Senna’s fatal crash at Imola 1994, are hard to watch. Seeing the medics attend to the driver, seeing his smashed car, seeing so many still familiar faces left reeling in the aftermath spares the viewer nothing.

There is a haunting sequence two thirds of the way through the movie, a clip of Senna revealing in an interview he knows his career as a racing driver will not last forever but that he hopes he is not yet half way through his life. He made the comments in 1993.

It’s not flawless. You can see why Prost has been suspicious of it and it does paint him, particularly, in an unfavourable light.

How it will work for the non Formula One fan is clearly difficult to assess. But at its heart, this is a story about rivalry, passion and ultimately tragedy.

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