What’s on this week
TWO OF THEM WOULD LIKELY have flown Spitfires had they reached adulthood 10 years earlier. Their wide, open smiles and swept, blond hair contrasted starkly with the brooding charisma of the other three – the pair of dashing Italians and the Spanish aristocrat. Five swashbuckling racing drivers, all dangling from the strings of one enigmatic and utterly ruthless puppet-master – and all dead within two devastatingly tragic years that have echoed through the ages: it’s the stuff of movie scripts.
And the word is it still could be, on the back of this stunning documentary. Ferrari: Race to Immortality is the story of a quintet of racing warriors, all of whom found themselves pitched into Enzo Ferrari’s famous Scuderia at the same tumultuous time during the second half of the 1950s. The focus falls most directly on Mon Ami Mates Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins (above right), and is inspired by the celebrated book of the same name by the late
Chris Nixon. Hawthorn would, in 1958, become enshrined in history as Britain’s first Formula 1 world champion, but only after his great friend gallantly gave up his chance of the honour two years earlier in deference to team leader Juan Manuel Fangio – the maestro who refused to dance to Ferrari’s Machiavellian manipulations.
Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi
Musso upheld Latin honour at Ferrari thereafter and were set against the Englishmen, only to perish as they strived for glory – the former in a pointless Modena testing crash, the latter while chasing Hawthorn at the French GP of ’58. The Marquis, Alfonso de Portago, died along with his codriver and nine spectators (including five children) on the ’57 Mille Miglia.
Collins, recently married to his beautiful American sweetheart, would win with style at Silverstone in ’58, only to lose his life the next time out at the Nurburgring. His devastated friend resolved to quit the sport, but not before winning the title in Collins’ honour, in the heat of Casablanca.
The coda of Hawthorn’s own demise, on an unremarkable stretch of Surrey road in January 1959, ensures a dark conclusion. As the film documents, it’s likely the accident only preceded a more drawn out and painful death from the kidney complaint Hawthorn spent his racing career striving to cover up.
In all, this is heavy material. But the wonderful, rare and largely colour footage, dug out by our own archive ‘magician’ Richard Wiseman, regularly lifts the gloom. Clips from Casablanca, Reims, Silverstone and many more left us open-mouthed.
The dead bodies of spectators killed in the 1955 Le Mans disaster, which Hawthorn inadvertently triggered, are upsetting and the footage steps beyond the boundaries of taste. Perhaps the scale and violence of that tragedy offers
vindication for their inclusion. But among the horror, the filmmakers also remember to remind us why these men raced at all: motor racing in the 1950s was exhilarating and fun. Lifestyle montages of Collins and Hawthorn, set to a soundtrack of Peggy Lee and Etta James, capture the best aspects of a spectacular era.
Narration comes from expert voices, among them Nigel Roebuck. Others include Tony Brooks – a Ferrari legend himself, of course – and also wives and girlfriends: Louise King recalls her tragically short marriage to Collins with deep fondness, and Jean Ireland, Hawthorn’s fiancée, and later wife to Innes, adds further authority.
A film about Ferrari in the 1950s that doesn’t mention Alberto Ascari cannot be described as flawless. But of the growing number of racing documentaries to have broken cover in recent years, this is among the finest. Ferrari: Race to Immortality is released in cinemas on November 3, and on DVD, Blu Ray and digital platforms from November 6.
Collins, Fangio and Hawthorn at the 1957 German Grand Prix, where the maestro defeated the Ferraris
The Scuderia’s charges line up at the 1957 French Grand Prix