An engaging if expected biographical account of the fated Formula One icon.
As someone largely unfamiliar with motor sports in general, Asif Kapadia’s amazingly insightful Senna was a serious eye-opener. Its vivid and enveloping tale was inspiring, and since then one has been desperate to find any additional documentaries of a similar nature. Enter McLaren – director Roger Donaldson’s ode to the iconic New Zealander racer – which although lacks the emotional impact of Kapadia’s 2010 film, is still a fitting tribute to the Formula One symbol.
At the tender age of nine, a young Bruce McLaren was diagnosed with Perthes Disease; a rare condition developed during childhood which affects the hip. The illness permanently left him unbalanced, and therefore restricted many activities and hobbies. His father Les, a motorcycle enthusiast who too fell victim to bodily injury, helped mould Bruce’s growing interest in racing vehicles. The twosome spent quality time at his workshop, and as he aged, as did his love for petrol. From here, Donaldson’s documentary expands to the track, ushering in the birth of a chequered flag hero. McLaren was, and remains to this very day, the most dominant Formula One figure of the 1950s and 60s; his career ironically seizing just in time for the rise of the aforementioned Ayrton Senna.
Even though both documentaries are shockingly tragic, on the whole McLaren doesn’t quite resonate as profoundly. Sure, there are a handful of moments which’ll really take the viewer back; namely the ferocious impact of a high-speed crash, but the inner demons aren’t entirely potent. McLaren’s ethos was purely to race, and to not let surrounding trauma distract from your goal. A racer like Senna for example, was significantly scarred by horrors upon the tarmac, and thus allowed the audience to feel a richer, more authentically human connection.
That’s not to say the documentary is void of humanity however, on the contrary. During his career, Bruce managed to find the time away from his busy schedule to find true love and become a father; both of which are thoughtfully explored here. And indeed his untimely death – aged just 32 – is captured with real melancholy. His fate wasn’t decided upon the grid, rather the test track, passing instantly in a head-on collision in Goodwood, West Sussex. Coincidentally, one caught the film at a Chichester screening house, also located in West Sussex, which deepened the viewer experience for sure. Prior to viewing, my knowledge of this great sportsman was vague, yet now somehwhat enriched.
As it stands, having more factual pictures about the sport of Formula One, and indeed its legendary competitors, is a fantastic way to educate. McLaren isn’t a complete film, but it is a thoughtful and entertaining one; a study of a figure whose short but powerful journey simply rushed for that poll position.
McLaren is available to watch now on VOD services in the United Kingdom.