Racing docs are still big business in the wake of ‘Senna’, but this is the first to focus not on a driver, but on the head of a Formula One team. Frank Williams is a fascinating case: born into a family of relatively modest means, he developed an obsession with speed that led him to form Frank Williams Racing Cars in the late ’60s, when chain-smoking men’s men ruled the scene.
Left with a lifelong spinal injury following a crash in 1986, Williams was awarded a CBE in 1987 and a knighthood in 1999. In the midst of all this, his wife Virginia published a book detailing the struggles that come with caring for a tetraplegic, and it’s that memoir as much as Williams’s own recollections that inform the film.
The result is unusually intimate, at times uncomfortably so. Williams admits that he never read his wife’s book, even after her death from cancer in 2013. Is he emotionally reluctant to relive difficult times, or simply unwilling to listen? The film also explores what looks like a troubled relationship between Frank and Virginia’s children: Claire, who is now deputy team principal of the Williams Formula One team, and Jonathan, who seems to feel thinly concealed resentment towards his younger sister.
As a story of how families deal with success and hardship, and how one man’s legacy affects those who follow in his footsteps, this is complicated, thoughtful stuff. But ‘Williams’ tries to appeal to the petrolhead crowd as well, with a blow-by-blow account of his career that can feel a little dry and fact-heavy.