Grand Prix movie 1966It was a total coincidence that I watched Grand Prix on the same weekend we heard about James Garner’s death. It is a movie I’ve meant to watch for a long time. I spent this weekend pretty much immersed in motorsport, with my son karting at Buckmore Park all day on Saturday plus it being a Formula 1 weekend, so this movie was an extension of a very petrol-fueled couple of days!

Don’t be fooled by the movie poster, which is very reminiscent of The Cannonball Run, it’s nothing like that. While The Cannonball Run is admittedly one of my all-time favourite guilty-secret movies, Grand Prix is an amazingly shot beautiful movie and a totally different beast. Although James Garner has always reminded me of a serious Burt Reynolds somehow…

I always knew motor racing used to be a lot more dangerous than now, I still remember where I was the day that Ayrton Senna was killed. It was one of those ‘where were you when…’ shocking moments that sticks with you. I remember exactly what I was doing as I watched the crash, just like I did when Challenger exploded, Princess Diana died and The World Trade Center was hit.  All moments which seem frozen in time by the sheer horror of what has just happened.

Even though I know a fair amount about the history of motor racing and the terrible fatality rates of the 50s and 60s, I still found this movie shocking because it showed how blasé everyone used to be about the deaths both of spectators and drivers.

There were various races during this movie where drivers were seriously injured or killed, sometimes along with members of the crowd and yet the races continued unaffected. I knew this happened but it was still shocking to watch, especially since this movie was filmed at the time it was set, so the real F1 drivers who took part in the movie were out facing this kind of danger every time they stepped into a car.

Grand Prix 1966

Remember all the fuss about Keira Knightly’s Chanel optical illusion dress a few months ago? Well this lady in the crowd first wore that look 50 years ago!

The movie centers around the championship battle between James Garner, an American F1 driver who loses his driving seat after causing a terrible crash with his teammate, Brian Bedford* as his injured teammate fighting to return and Yves Montand who plays an old French champion. The movie is as much about the women in their lives and how they coped with living with men who diced with death constantly.

*Interestingly Brian Bedford couldn’t actually drive a car, so in all of his racing scenes were filmed with Jackie Stewart driving his car wearing a balaclava to obscure his face. In contrast James Garner’s driving was so good that the professional drivers told him he could have made it as an F1 driver if he hadn’t chosen to go into acting!

Jackie Stewart in Grand Prix

Jackie Stewart doing Brian Bedford’s driving for him

The way the film is shot is stunning, and I don’t that that’s just because I’m a petrolhead. The race scenes are truly spectacular, they are shot using a mixture of in-car footage, cameras mounted on other cars and overhead shots and the results are spectacular. I’m obviously not alone in thinking this, as Grand Prix won 3 technical Oscars because of the cinematography.

In short I loved this movie. It was frustrating to watch two people meeting and falling in love only to have him be killed in the final scene, but I guess that just brings home the nature of racing in the 1960s. This film is beautiful, dramatic, and shocking all in equal measure and I urge you to go and watch it (in HD)!

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