Weekend of a Champion
Wednesday 9th October, 9.15pm – BFI Southbank, NFT2
Thursday 10th October, 6.10pm – Everyman Screen on the Green
Friday 18th October, 15.30 – Vue West End, Screen 7
In 1971 Roman Polanski trailed reigning Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart during the Monaco Grand Prix and the week preceding it. The result is an occasionally interesting, mostly beige film, completely unbefitting of the pinnacle of motor racing.
Now re-released with a 15-minute modern-day interview tacked onto the end, the 2013 vintage of Weekend of a Champion is a shameless attempt to cash in on cinema’s recent realisation that F1 on film is exciting. But whereas Senna had an intriguing central personality to follow, and Rush had a captivating rivalry, Weekend of a Champion can only offer the genial Stewart and his involvement in motor racing safety reforms. Hardly grandstand stuff.
Indeed, aside from a narrated tour of the Monaco course and some genuinely thrilling footage onboard a practice lap in Stewart’s Tyrell car, there really is little to get excited about: a barren soundscape (the rousing music on the trailer is entirely absent from the final cut), no racing rivalries, no outsider perspectives, no piercing psychological insight – just Jackie in his underwear talking about gear ranges. Even the race is dull, led comfortably by Stewart from start to finish. Interesting factoids do spring out of the 2013 interview (for instance, over a five-year stretch in Stewart’s heyday he stood a 66% chance of dying on the job), but this isn’t enough to salvage a film.
The fault here lies not so much with the subject (although Stewart is, perhaps, simply not idiosyncratic enough to carry a documentary), but the director. As a self-confessed petrol-head, Polanski commits the cardinal sin of being too in awe of his subject. He admirably calls Stewart on the driver’s quasi-mythical claims that he can “anticipate the car’s next feeling” or “go faster by driving slower”, but otherwise Polanski manages the curious trick of being simultaneously too objective in not bringing any of his own perspective to the documentary, and too subjective in failing to probe his subject more effectively. The result is a bland account of Stewart’s Monaco victory of 1971 – unenlightening in itself, and without enough drama, shape or thrill to grip he who doesn’t already worship at the altar of Sir Jackie Stewart and F1.
Weekend of a Champion is listed in the Thrill section of the London Film Festival, seemingly without irony. If you love Jackie Stewart, you stand a chance of enjoying it. If you don’t, you won’t.
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Watch the trailer for Weekend of a Champion here: