“Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed

F1 reviews

“Senna” opened in Japan two months ago but British fans will have to wait until June to see the film on big screen.

Luckily I had the chance to attend a private screening of the film in London yesterday where I also spoke to the film’s author and co-executive producer Manish Pandey.

In making “Senna” the producers had access to Formula One Management’s extensive video archive. That vast amount of material has been condensed into a film which lasts little longer than a Grand Prix.

I’m sure that, like myself, many F1 Fanatic readers would have been happy to watch a Lord of the Rings-style three-part epic. But exerting discipline over what to include and what to cut has clearly been to the film’s benefit, and not just in terms of making it suitable for a mainstream audience.

“Senna” tells the story of his life and F1 career through original footage, much of it never before seen. It avoids the dry documentary style of talking head interviews, using instead voice-overs from several contributors plus clips from television commentaries.

Thanks to this approach the film moves along rapidly, introducing Senna with his breakthrough performance at Monte-Carlo in 1984 and speeding through to the onset of his rivalry with Alain Prost in 1988.

Although the film has plenty to say about Senna’s character, his charitable work and, of course, his death, his bitter battle with Prost is the film’s principle focus.

Poster for "Senna" - The Ayrton Senna movie

While no one should underestimate the difficulty the producers had in choosing what to leave out of the film, the decision to skip over some events inevitably shapes the film’s view of the main figures.

Two important moments in the rising hostility between Senna and Prost are omitted. These are their wheel-to-wheel battle at Estoril in 1988 and the row that erupted over the restart at Imola in 1989.

Perhaps these weren’t thought significant enough to include, but putting them in might have helped to balance the film’s view of Senna, which verges on the saintly at times.

It is not Prost but FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre who is ultimately portrayed as the villain, and the glimpses of his heavy-handed and partisan interventions do him no favours at all.

As well as these controversial episodes there are moments of great humour, none of which I’m going to spoil by giving them away here.

For a lifelong Formula 1 fan who discovered the sport at the height of the Senna-Prost war, the film is a treasure trove of fascinating moments from a great era.

Telling a story which most people already know the end of presents problems of its own. Watching “Senna”, you know what’s coming – and you don’t want it to get there. You just want to watch the black-and-gold Lotus dancing its way around Adelaide in 1985. And you want to see more of the remarkable behind-the-scenes footage of his first home win at Brazil in 1991.

The film reaches a poignant and moving conclusion. It’s impossible to re-watch the events of that Imola weekend without feeling heavy-hearted and the final sequence strikes an emotional chord.

As Manish wrote here in October: “Many non-F1 people know [Senna] because of his death: hopefully, they will now have some insight into his life.”

“Senna” accomplishes that brilliantly. Quite simply it’s the greatest film about motor racing I have ever seen.

F1 Fanatic rating out of five

Rating five out of five

Buy Senna (UK, Blu-ray, region free)

Buy Senna (UK, DVD)

Buy Senna (USA, Blu-ray)

Buy Senna (USA, DVD)

“Senna” opens in the UK on June 3rd, 2011. It has already opened in some regions including Japan and Brazil. Please share information on when it opens in your area in the comments.

“Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie trailer

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109 comments on “Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed

  1. Gaby said on 3rd June 2011, 21:50

    Does anyone know when the movie will be open in Finland? :)

  2. Susan said on 10th June 2011, 15:00

    Just seen the film and it was excellent. I don’t think it made Senna look saintly but it did highlight how I think certain people were against him for whatever reason. One thing that really struck me in the film was the utter arrogance of the FIA boss at the time, Balestre – he and Sep Blatter must be related with their identical opionions of themselves, that is that they are untouchable and so superior to everyone else around them. No matter how many times you have seen the fatal crash, it still shocks and brings the emotions back. You know it’s coming and then it does and you find yourself sitting there willing a different outcome. Also the footage of Ratzenberger’s comments to his team before the accident and then seeing his accident are chilling. RIP to all killed over that very sad weekend.

  3. You really make it appear really easy with your presentation however I find this topic to be really something which I believe I’d never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking ahead in your next post, I’ll try to get the cling of it!

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