- Eddie Harrison
- 31 July 2017
Revealing and affecting documentary about the motor-racing clan that brings its women to the fore
'The incredible true story of Formula One's greatest family,' is how the poster sells Williams; experienced documentary-maker Morgan Matthews relates the complex relationships within the Williams clan in painstaking detail, laying bare a narrative that's far from a Boys' Own triumph.
Frank Williams founded the famous Williams brand, achieving fame with remarkable velocity as he worked his way up from trackside spare-parts guru to Formula One team leader. In 1986, an off-track car accident left Frank a quadriplegic, and his daughter Claire has since taken on many of the responsibilities that Frank had. A young woman fighting her corner in a sport rife with sexism and machismo would seem a compelling enough subject in itself. But the central character in the Williams saga is Lady Virginia Williams, Claire's mother and Frank's wife. Although 'Ginny' died in 2013, her voice is heard in recordings made for her book A Different Kind of Life, interviews reconstructed with actresses for Matthews' documentary.
Cinematically, these interviews are the weakest part of the film, but Ginny's voice is a crucial one. A photograph of her on the podium after the 1986 British Grand Prix is the punch-line; supporting her husband and family, she rarely sought the limelight, but blazed a determined trail for her daughter to follow. The exhaustive contemporary coverage of motor-racing means that, in the manner of Asif Kapadia's superlative Senna, Matthews has all the footage and talking-head interviews required to explain how the women of the Williams family fulfilled Frank's original dream.
A good documentary needs conflict, and the reluctance of Frank Williams and his sons to get involved with Claire's heartfelt tribute to her mother is revealing. Motor-racing may still be a man's world, but this account of a strong woman's triumph reveals a very personal and affecting hidden story.
Selected release from Fri 4 Aug.