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Film review: Williams (2017)

February 18, 2019

I watched Morgan MatthewsWilliams – Racing is in the blood – the story of Ginny & Frank Williams’ relationship – for the second time last night and although I’m no Paul Ross (in more ways than one) I thought I’d do a bit of a write up of it.

Countless documentaries have been made about Formula 1 – a sport that is pored over again and again by historians, fans, archivists and statisticians.

So another film whose plot is the rise and fall of the Williams team based on their on-track successes or failures would be nothing new.

This certainly isn’t that.

It is written around tapes of Sir Frank Williams‘ wife Lady Virginia Williams‘ interviews with author Pamela Cockerill while in the process of writing her 1988 book ‘A different kind of life’.

Both the book and the film focus on Sir Frank’s relationships with his family – or rather their relationships with him – in the period from his first involvement with the sport in the 1960s when Frank and Ginny met, and 1989 when ‘A different kind of life’ was written.

The film mixes Ginny’s first hand account of her relationship with Frank and Formula 1 with contemporary footage of and interviews with amongst others, Claire Williams – Frank and Ginny’s daughter, current deputy principal of the Williams F1 team.

It’s the human story of living and coping with Frank and the emotional cost of running a successful Formula 1 team (then and now) to the people who are involved indirectly – most notably the Williams family.

Frank Williams is portrayed as a determined, driven, proud, and at times selfish man whose Formula 1 team he prioritised ahead of anything else in the world, often including his family.

Ginny Williams, who passed away in 2013, is revealed as a strong, determined, steely, savvy woman whose support of Frank was pivotal to Williams success and deserved much more credit than it received – Frank often getting the plaudits.

This support is most needed in the months following the near-fatal car accident in 1986 that resulted in Frank becoming paralysed below the shoulders to which a large part of the film is dedicated.

The film, and its subject matter are powerful and emotionally involving, much to the chagrin of Sir Frank it would seem, who appears determined to remain emotionally balanced throughout, despite the conversation turning to very emotive subjects such as the accident which left him paralysed and the deaths of his first driver and great friend Piers Courage, and of Ginny herself.

The film is heartfelt, it is honest and it is insightful. It is a real window into the struggles that the Williams family have overcome on their route to F1 greatness.

It’s a story of endeavour, achievement and overcoming adversity and so you don’t have to be a fan of F1 to enjoy this film.

And if you’re an F1 fan and haven’t yet seen it you have absolutely no excuse not to do so immediately!

It’s available now on the BBC iPlayer.


In the film, many of Frank qualities and numerous successes are skimmed over slightly, the film makers instead choosing to focus on his flaws in order to reinforce the point that Frank cannot claim all the credit for Williams’ success.

He is first painted as a northern oik; a ‘bit of rough’; an unrefined interloper into the high brow world of Formula 1.

Once (with a great deal of hard work and determination it must be said) he’s established himself as a serious F1 contender he’s portrayed as a selfish, single-minded team-owner, and by one psychologist in the film even lacking intelligence.

And latterly it’s his disability that requires him of help.

And because Frank himself is a largely passive character in this telling of the Williams story – he’s being talked about, but he isn’t doing much of the talking – at times the narrative lacks a little bit of balance.

The film’s marketing

Some critics say that a large chunk of Williams’ history is missing from the film.

While this is true, it misses the point.

This is Ginny Williams’ story.

Jackie Stewart and Nigel Mansell’s names might be on the poster, but Pamela Cockerill (co-author of ‘A different kind of life’) and Lynden Swainston – good friend to Ginny feature more prominently in the film than any F1 driver, which is telling.

Being that a key theme of the film is to give credit for Williams’ success where it’s due it’s somewhat ironic that the film has been marketed so heavily as ‘the story of Frank Williams’ Formula 1 team’.

“Focusing on the career and family of its legendary founder Sir Frank Williams, the British sports documentary tells the extraordinary story of the Williams Formula 1 team, from its inception to the present day.” says IMDB.

This isn’t the film I just watched.

I wish the film makers had been a bit braver, taken the sales hit and sold this as Ginny Williams’ story – a key part of Williams history in her own right.

In the film there is a section on Frank’s return to Formula 1 after a long and difficult rehabilitation following his accident: a time of absolute torment for those close to him.

In his absence at home, in the factory and at Grand Prix, friends and family were required to pick up the pieces until, an arduous six months later, Frank was strong enough to attend the Friday practice of the 1986 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch – his first appearance at a racetrack since his accident.

Williams’ Nigel Mansell won the race two days later and Ginny Williams was invited onto the podium to receive the trophy on behalf of the team.

As she held aloft the trophy a photo was taken, in which her face says everything about the heartbreak and pain of the previous months and years, but screams of her determination, resilience, defiance and passion.

This should have been the movie poster.

Ginny Williams F1


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