Senna. © Working Title Productions / Universal Pictures

At long last, the award winning documentary film Senna, opens in the UK and Ireland today.

Directed by Asif Kapadia from a written work by Manish Pandey, the film tracks the life of the legendary driver Ayrton Senna from when he entered Formula 1 until his demise at Imola in 1994.

Rather than produce a work that simply tells of his in car prowess and technical abilities – an effort told by numerous other documentaries over the years – Senna focuses on the man himself, his feelings of deep faith and his demons throughout his time in the sport.
While many will remember his on track fights with Alain Prost, Senna also goes some way to unearthing the sport’s internal battles, where the chief protagonist was then FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre.

The story is chiefly told by use of interviews and soundbites from Senna and his contemporaries at the time, only occasionally feeling the need to resort to talking heads of recent times – and the film is all the better for it.
Noticeable also is how the picture of the film improves with time. Footage taken from his early days remains naturally grainy and raw, improving greatly until the beginning of 1994.
This is not a criticism – far from it. In fact, it works perfectly. Not only does the quality of footage improve over the years as cameras and signals got stronger, but the characters involved age, giving a very real feeling of passing time.
Over the course of the film, the once youthful Senna gains lines across his forehead and face, Prost’s eyes deepen and his face becomes thinner, while Ron Dennis gets progressively balder.

I was lucky enough to see the film at a preview screen at the Curzon theatre in London last month and I can tell you now that it was worth the wait.
Every second of the movie oozed charisma, every character exotic, every moment tense. Once distance memories flashed back into focus, as images of those long since retired – or dead – filled the screen.
Senna truly is an astonishing movie – and thankfully one where being a motor racing fanatic is not a necessity. This is drama in its truest sense.

In a world where we are often surrounded by soundbite stars, Senna was one of the last great enigma’s of Formula 1 – how fitting that his story be told in such a beautiful manner.

Earlier this year, Senna won the World Cinema Audience Award for documentaries and already rumours of a possible Oscar nomination are flourishing.
Coming in at (roundabout) the length of a Grand Prix, Senna is not too taxing on ones spare time; however should one choose to go see it, they will be much richer for the experience.

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