Starring: Frank Williams, Claire Williams, Patrick Head
Director: Morgan Matthews
Running Time: 109 mins
Williams is a British documentary about the Williams family who, from the humble beginnings of Sir Frank with his wife Ginny by his side, to his daughter Claire in modern day, established one of the most successfull Formula One teams of all time, but not without significant hardship over the decades.
Although it may not look like it from the outside, the Williams F1 team is deeply intertwined with the Williams family history, and that’s what this documentary does so well. Bringing to life two fascinating sides of the story of the family, it’s a riveting and powerfully emotional story that holds your interest from start to finish. It may occasionally get a little muddled when trying to pick a side to focus on, and is possibly a little inaccessible for non-F1 fans, but it’s still a fascinating watch throughout.
Now, I’m a big F1 fan. My favourite documentary of all time (and the highest rated film of all on this website) is Senna, a beautiful, elegant and thrilling tale of one of the sport’s greatest drivers. Although I can’t say that I found the same thrills in Williams as I did in Senna, I have to say that there is a lot about it that bears a likeness, particularly when it comes to the all-important topic of a thirst for competition in motor racing.
The film is a piece about the Williams family, but there’s no doubt that Sir Frank, the man who started the team, is the centre. Although he was never a driver, one of the most powerful messages that this documentary brings across is just how determined he was as a competitor, in whatever capacity. Through some incredibly difficult times over his years in F1, Frank’s determination and obsession with the sport is so similar to the emotions that dominate Senna, and that’s what sets up such an enthralling and emotionally affecting watch.
I do worry that viewers who don’t have the same fervour for motor racing may not be able to relate to the film as much, because there is so much focus on Frank Williams’ unstoppable obsession despite all the dangers of motor racing, but if you are an F1 fan, or indeed a fan of pure competition, then it’s very clear to understand how strongly the man has felt about the sport all his life.
However, the entire film isn’t all about Sir Frank Williams. There’s a sprinkling of on-track action throughout, delving into the rivalry between Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell in 1986, when the Williams family was at their most difficult moment, but the true focus of the film is how the family itself played a role in shaping the team that has endured very strongly up to the present day.
As a result, the film’s three major players are Frank, his wife Ginny, and his daughter Claire. Alongside Frank’s racing obsession, we get an enthralling insight into the woman who was always at his side, and the core of the film’s emotion really comes from contrasting the thrill that Frank got from being in Formula One to the difficulties that it often caused for his wife.
It’s not a story that in any way criticises either party, but it highlights the fates of the people who aren’t always at the forefront, and how much of an emotional drain such an intense profession can be on their personal lives, something that I found absolutely riveting.
Furthermore, Frank’s daughter Claire offers a very effective and relatable position for you as the viewer. Much of the film focuses on the fact that Frank is a very emotionally introverted character, something that also contributed to a degree of stress in the family, but with the insights from Claire, someone who is both prominent in F1 nowadays, but also has the benefit of being so close to Frank Williams, you get a very clear and collected insight to the whole family saga, and it’s her descriptions, along with a collection of fascinating tapes from Ginny Williams, that give the film such a powerful emotional effect.
On the whole, this is an excellent documentary, but it’s not without a couple of small flaws. For one, its first act struggles to really tie all of the aspects of the story together well, jumping back and forth a little too much between the three main players, Frank, Ginny and Claire, as well as trying a little too hard to assure you that there will be some racing cars in the movie too. For me, I would have been perfectly happy to see a slightly calmer introduction to the story that focused on the family heritage, and brought in the wider F1 context a little later on.
Overall, however, I was absolutely enthralled by Williams. An excellent documentary that looks at a wide range of stories around the Formula One paddock centring around the Williams family, it will have you absolutely riveted from start to finish, and even tug at your heartstrings, such is the emotional power of the family’s story, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.2.