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McLaren -The Movie

McLaren, The Movie.

Roger Donaldson’s biopic of our founder Bruce McLaren premiered in London this week. A fitting salute to one man’s legend? Here’s our review

There’s an inherent danger for any filmmaker in attempting to definitively capture the life story of a great man. There is so much to live up to, so much to get wrong.

But Bruce McLaren’s story so badly needed telling. The degree to which he inspired those around him, the extent of his pioneering genius, the loyalties he commanded, the astonishing respect from peers, rivals, colleagues, the scale of his impact on motorsport, the dynasty he founded, the brave yet tragic nature of his untimely death – all of these.

Bruce’s story is perhaps known by hardcore enthusiasts, race fans, historians – but it’s bigger than that, bigger than motor racing. It’s a story of courage, belief, inspiration, determination. A story of what you can achieve if you never give up. It’s a story for everyone.

And it’s a story that, in director Roger Donaldson’s deft hands, has been told with a degree of surety that Bruce himself, had he been a movie maker, would have aspired to.

Donaldson, assisted by producers Matthew Metcalfe and Fraser Brown, frames the film as a documentary, but makes it compelling by blending three potent elements – a fanatically researched body of archive footage, much of it never seen, the open-hearted recollections of a dizzying array of interviewees and the use of seamless, understated live action sequences. 

Those interviewed include Emerson Fittipaldi, Alastair Caldwell, Chris Amon, Howden Ganley, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Sir Jackie Stewart and, most movingly, Bruce’s widow, Patty, who tragically died before the film was complete.

We are taken back to New Zealand to Bruce’s childhood, when Perthes disease nearly crippled him, but where he had his first race win on a beach in the Austin 7 that’s still displayed today at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking. We share his first Grand Prix win (the youngest ever winner at 22), and the creation of his eponymous race team, which tasted triumph at Spa in 1968. And we get truly into the age of Can-Am domination, helped by thrilling archive footage.

The film is a masterpiece of editing and narrative judgement. The moment when Bruce is killed while testing the M8D at Goodwood is astonishingly realised – it’s as if the crash has just happened.

But the film is not mawkish or downbeat – it’s bursting with humour and triumph, smiles and warmth. A truly fitting salute to Bruce’s life and legacy. It’s not a wake, it’s a celebration.

McLaren opens in UK cinemas on Thursday May 25th 2017, and is available on DVD, BluRay and digital download from May 29th.