Poster for "Senna" - The Ayrton Senna movie

“Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed

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“Senna” opened in Japan two months ago but British fans will have to wait until June to see the film on big screen.

Luckily I had the chance to attend a private screening of the film in London yesterday where I also spoke to the film’s author and co-executive producer Manish Pandey.

In making “Senna” the producers had access to Formula One Management’s extensive video archive. That vast amount of material has been condensed into a film which lasts little longer than a Grand Prix.

I’m sure that, like myself, many F1 Fanatic readers would have been happy to watch a Lord of the Rings-style three-part epic. But exerting discipline over what to include and what to cut has clearly been to the film’s benefit, and not just in terms of making it suitable for a mainstream audience.

“Senna” tells the story of his life and F1 career through original footage, much of it never before seen. It avoids the dry documentary style of talking head interviews, using instead voice-overs from several contributors plus clips from television commentaries.

Thanks to this approach the film moves along rapidly, introducing Senna with his breakthrough performance at Monte-Carlo in 1984 and speeding through to the onset of his rivalry with Alain Prost in 1988.

Although the film has plenty to say about Senna’s character, his charitable work and, of course, his death, his bitter battle with Prost is the film’s principle focus.

Poster for "Senna" - The Ayrton Senna movie

While no one should underestimate the difficulty the producers had in choosing what to leave out of the film, the decision to skip over some events inevitably shapes the film’s view of the main figures.

Two important moments in the rising hostility between Senna and Prost are omitted. These are their wheel-to-wheel battle at Estoril in 1988 and the row that erupted over the restart at Imola in 1989.

Perhaps these weren’t thought significant enough to include, but putting them in might have helped to balance the film’s view of Senna, which verges on the saintly at times.

It is not Prost but FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre who is ultimately portrayed as the villain, and the glimpses of his heavy-handed and partisan interventions do him no favours at all.

As well as these controversial episodes there are moments of great humour, none of which I’m going to spoil by giving them away here.

For a lifelong Formula 1 fan who discovered the sport at the height of the Senna-Prost war, the film is a treasure trove of fascinating moments from a great era.

Telling a story which most people already know the end of presents problems of its own. Watching “Senna”, you know what’s coming – and you don’t want it to get there. You just want to watch the black-and-gold Lotus dancing its way around Adelaide in 1985. And you want to see more of the remarkable behind-the-scenes footage of his first home win at Brazil in 1991.

The film reaches a poignant and moving conclusion. It’s impossible to re-watch the events of that Imola weekend without feeling heavy-hearted and the final sequence strikes an emotional chord.

As Manish wrote here in October: “Many non-F1 people know [Senna] because of his death: hopefully, they will now have some insight into his life.”

“Senna” accomplishes that brilliantly. Quite simply it’s the greatest film about motor racing I have ever seen.

F1 Fanatic rating out of five

Rating five out of five

Buy Senna (UK, Blu-ray, region free)

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“Senna” opens in the UK on June 3rd, 2011. It has already opened in some regions including Japan and Brazil. Please share information on when it opens in your area in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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109 comments on ““Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed”

  1. Can’t wait to see it, like yourself discovered F1 around the same time, and remember being utterly distraught at his passing. I imagine the film with tug on the heart strings some what.
    Thanks for the review, roll on June!

    1. I’m a huge fan of Senna and always will be, but the film, perhaps because of the support by the Senna family/foundation, is too one-sided and clean. It doesn’t touch on the ego, the bullying, the obnoxious ****** Senna was clearly capable of being and there is no allusion to his sexuality. It is a glowing eulogy and has fantatsic race/car footage, but is far from a great film.

  2. Charles Carroll
    16th December 2010, 14:14

    Hello Keith,

    Any word on this film’s availability in the United States?

    1. I don’t think a date has been announced yet. It is up for a Sundance Award though.

      Apparently it’s out in Australia some time in 2011.

      1. Thats great news that it is coming out in Australia, I cant wait to see this movie, I just hope a cinema near me shows it. :)

        1. What about Malaysia?

          1. You guys will probably just battle over the naming rights.

      2. I really hope it is released in Australia at the same time as in the UK – although I highly doubt it would ever be shown at my local cinema. :(

    2. Any one know where we can find the torrent? I live in Africa and there is no way in hell im flying to the UK just to watch the movie.

      1. It’s not released here for another six months. It might be released where you are before then, or soon after.

        1. They generally dont notice us down here, so I doubt it will ever be released here.

    3. According to the New York Times there is no release date in the States yet.I am so excited to see this movie.It may be the chance for me to take my friends and finally get them into F1.

      1. I won’t lie — I was tempted to fly to Utah for Sundance to see it. Then I came to my senses. ;-)

        Seriously, though, I’m hoping it ends up showing somewhere here in NYC. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Tribeca Film Festival, which has partnered with ESPN to show sports documentaries in the past.

    4. Humberto Casiano
      19th February 2011, 9:41

      The movie came out 18 February at Laemmle Theatre in Encino, CA. It believe I read somewhere it will only be available for 7 days. Hope all of you get a chance to see it.

      It is also playing in NYC, though I do not know the name of the theatre.

      Hope this info helps.

  3. I started watching F1 around 1991 and can not wait to see this. I’m looking forward to seeing the footage and dreading the stuff from 94.

    This film can’t come out soon enough.

    1. I think I’ll cry like a little girl at the end.

      I’ve watched the trailer more times than I can count and even that gets me a little upset each time.

  4. “the film’s view of Senna… verges on the saintly at times”

    That is the one line of the review which puts me right off this film. We hear enough about how brilliant he was, how he would have won more titles than Schumacher had he lived longer, how he was the greatest driver ever to have lived, how he could turn water into wine.

    I’m aware of how brilliant he was. I’m also aware of his numerous flaws. Just because he died at the wheel of a Formula 1 car doesn’t make him a saint. I wish we could just have a balanced assessment of him for once

    1. I would say don’t let it put you off. It is really good, and how often do you get the chance to see a film about F1 in the cinema?

      1. The last one was in 1967!

        1. No. 1977. “Bobby Deerfield” by Sydney Pollack with Al Pacino and Marthe Keller. A tear jerker but some good racing scenes.

      2. Oh no, I’m sure it’s still a great film and I can’t wait for it to be released, but these Senna love-ins really irk me. It ruins most of his biographies.

    2. I agree that Senna has become ever-so-slightly overrated because of his death. And I’m a Schumacher fan too. Still, how can you NOT want to watch this movie? It’s a glimpse not just into Senna’s life and soul, but also F1 in a different time, a less-pc era.

      1. These cars were more pc-esque than the cars nowadays. Traction control, very “modern” electronic feedback etc… (and to cary on with the pc-esque part : unreliable)

        I wonder how senna would have fared vs Hamilton and/or Alonso.

        I just wish a driver in the paddock would be as open as him (Kobayashi maybe? Webber in his own way?) because I just can’t stand the interviews anymore, that’s “for sure”.

        1. Tango- I’m not sure I’m misinterpreting a joke here but I think Journeyer is refering to pc as ‘politically correct’, not ‘personal computer’!

          1. Thanks Ned, I really thought pc as in personnal computer. My grand parents tend to say pc for anything that is modern / electrical… Well, sorry Journeyer! At least the last part is about politacally correct so my comment isn’t so off topic…

          2. Also it was only in the early 90s that the electronics came in (notably in the ’92 Williams).

            In the 80s when Senna started the cars were still very agricultural.

          3. In the 80s when Senna started the cars were still very agricultural

            ?!?!?! I was watching back then, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t drive tractors

          4. It’s traction control, not tractor control!

        2. Wasn’t Hamilton a little scared driving Senna’s McLaren MP4/4

          1. I’m sure he was at least a LITTLE scared, but he did say you’d have to be insane to race F1 back then. No paddle shifters so you had to one-hand it … plus it was lacking so many safety features the new ones have.

    3. I know what you’re saying Ned, but really he already had that sort of aura about him (pun not intended) when he was alive. For better or for worse, he was a legend in his own time – and I say that purely objectively: for many people, that’s what he was. When you see the films from his funeral procession in Brazil, you may not feel a personal emotional connection, but it’s obvious that he aroused a sort of passion in people that few sports figures do. I don’t relate to that personally, but I can understand it to a point and so I can’t quite agree that it’s his death that made him into what he (or his memory) is today. He was already made into a mystical figure when he was alive (not to mention that he saw himself that way, to an extent). Whether that stops people from viewing him objectively today is another thing. Mind you, after having said all that, I’ll agree that a more balanced look at his darker (maybe even fatalistic?) side would not only be good, but more interesting than a ‘love-in’. In any case, most of us have to wait a while to see it for ourselves.

    4. I share the same apprehension. Hopefully it’s just limited to showing him do great things and brushing the bad stuff under the carpet rather than all-out hagiography with people lining up to say he was the greatest, etc.

      Watching “Senna”, you know what’s coming – and you don’t want it to get there

      Actually this is the bit I’m looking forward to most. As welcome as all that footage will be, the biggest blank in Senna’s life has been the ending. So little footage is available, even in documentaries, of what went on that weekend and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to truly appreciate the horror of it without seeing as much as they can. Does the film focus a lot on Barrichello’s accident and Ratzenberger’s death? Obviously I don’t want to see gory details but I’d hate if the film skipped over these things or focused only on their impact on Senna.

      1. Footage of his death was available, but then Charlie Whiting handed the cars intact black box back to the Williams team, which was then handed over the Italian authorities in a mangled state.

        In regards to the details of his death, I don’t want to know the specifics. Eric Comas was accidently released from the pits when the race was under red flag conditions and upon seeing what was happening at the scene of Sennas accident returned to the pits and retired from the race.

    5. There isn’t enough time in a film to adequately cover all the bases of such a complex person as Ayrton Senna.

      The film needs to be appealing to audiences and give them an appreciation about just how special Senna was, and F1 is. If the film weighed heavily on criticism, the plot would be “dangerous driver who gets what he deserves.” That wouldn’t be appealing to anyone except Alain Prost.

      1. Now come on, Prost was commentating on french TV during the accident, and he sounded truly chocked and lost. He refrained from the opportunity to say “I told him so” and so on (and nobody knew at the time the man was good as dead). He actually told his co-host that given how little of the choc had been absorbed by the car, it was a very very grave accident. He fell silent for most of the race after that.

      2. I watched the funeral on Eurosport and Alain Prost was one of the pallbearers so I don’t think it was ever anything personal. They were just both ultra competitive and would do whatever to win, Senna a liitle more probably

    6. heresy.

    7. I agree. How could it leave out the restart at Imola, surely that was where the relationship was irreparably damaged? It doesn’t make me want to go and see the film.

    8. well… it happened with Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and so many others.

      But Senna had the upper hand most of the times when he was alive. So it is justified, somehow.

      Yes, it’d be better to have a balanced assessment. But how many times we get that in real life? Barely none. It’s do or die at everything nowadays!

    9. We must think alike Ned, for when I read that part I kind of cringed a bit. I can see this will be a minor issue in the film, but I honestly can’t wait! I am really looking forward to seeing some new angles of races thanks to FOM letting the producers into their archives!

    10. Hey, you are not a brazilian…. so you don´t have a clue what he means to us……
      In a time of complete chaos financially(way worst than USA two years ago), people without jobs…….It was a very sad period, and he was our only joy…. to see a fellow brazilian win and carry our flag to the top of the podium….. The way he gave millions and millions to help underprivileged people….. not for publicity, no media knew that until he died, but becouse he wanted to help…. and weeks before his death he started with his sister an idea that after he died became his INSTITUTE that help over 40 million children across the globe….

      Just for you know…. more than a fantastic driver…. he was a very very special person…. not perfect but more perfect than most…..

      1. I’m brazilian, Bruno, and I don’t like the saint idea created here in Brazil. An image created by Rede Globo by the way ¬¬’
        He is a legend, yes! He is the greatest of all time, of course! He is an example of human being and humanitarian, Yes! A saint, the only joy to us brazilians, no way!
        I was 4 years old when he died, I have everything of him: toys, mags, clothes…but motorsport is not about flags and give hope, it’s about cars!it’s about races and who is the best driver!it’s about passion and commitment with motor racing

    11. He is not a saint because he died at the wheel of an F1 car. He is a saint for the affect he has had on millions of people before he died & after. I pity you, obviously you missed it. I guess it was over your head. See the light!

      1. Ayrton was a man, an exceptional man.Not perfect but driven to perfection. No more no less.

  5. Journeyer, I think perhaps Senna’s unfortunate death at Imola may have romanticised his sometimes uncompromising driving style, but I don’t think anyone can say that he became overrated because of his death. Senna is definately not overrated, he was truly a brilliant racing driver, just watching him driving in video footage shows the commitment and passion he showed behind the wheel of a racing car…

  6. Don’t know when I will end up watching the movie but if I ever does I will be lucky.Why will it take June 2011 for it to be telecast in UK in a country where F1 is one of the most popular sports?

    1. I agree. Its really disappointing that they can not show it until next year! This is one of the biggest countries to follow F1, we have the most champions, and the most teams on the track.

  7. I really reaaaaally hope they make it available IN CINEMAS over here…

    for the mainstream viewer, it’s not the best movie. But I hope Cinemark and all those movie theaters realize half the Argies have petrol instead of blood.

  8. It doesn’t seem to come to Finland any time soon :/

  9. “Quite simply it’s the greatest film about motor racing I have ever seen.”

    i can’t wait. but i must, because the movie industry is even more clouded and nonsensical than formula one. show us the movie already!

    not to change the subject, but what are your thoughts on steve mcqueen’s le mans? seems it has been trumped as THE motor racing movie (james gardner’s grand prix doesn’t come close) but the field isn’t exactly spoiled for choice.

  10. Yep im with Ned FLanders on this one, that line put me right off as well but i will watch it, through slightly apprehensive teeth, if im not mixing my metaphors Blundell style there.

    Senna was deeply flawed and his messianic belief in himself would probably not have been taken so well in todays more microscopic media gaze. But his is a great if tragic story and his undeniable charisma will help it im sure. But “greatest motor racing film” isnt really saying all that much is it.

    1. any distinctive character is usually frowned upon these days. look at kimi – the guy just wanted to be left alone, but that’s not good enough for the press and businessmen.

      “But “greatest motor racing film” isnt really saying all that much is it.”

      there’s another fast and furious movie on the way, if that’s your cup of tea :)

  11. I had the pleasure to see the film twice while I was in Japan & can honestly say it is one of the most enthralling pieces of cinema I have ever watched. Keith’s review does it justice in hitting the ups (& downs) of the movie as a whole. For me the final portrayal of the events during Imola is done breathtakingly with Rubens crash & Ratzenburger’s death, & Sid Watkins interview about arriving on the scene will make the hardest F1 fan tear up IMO. Obviously, I am a Senna fan, but I don’t think the movie makes him out to be a saint (particular attention is paid to his feelings about winning the title after not relenting the corner to Prost); It pays much more attention to HOW important he was to Brazil & the F1 community in general…there were a lot of tears flowing at the end throughout the theater. Also, the soundtrack is brilliant. Has anyone seen a listing of the music in the movie because there is no official soundtrack set for release.

  12. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    16th December 2010, 17:56

    it’s a shame these kind of excellent productions are hard to find in Peru, but if it were impossible, I would definitely buy it from internet, so Keith, PM or the others, if there’s a link to buy it now or in a while, please post it here.

  13. I am brazilian, a huge Senna fan, and already seen the movie. Honestly, I was a bit dissapointed with the movie because it leaves so much of Senna’s story behind, for example, no mention of his historic lap in Donnington 93. But as a fan of the sport, as a brazilian, as someone who saw Senna in his glory days and felt what he represented here in Brazil, the movie is very good. I respect the movie because it is giving an opportunity to so many people here in Brazil and in the world, who only heard of Senna after his death, and by seeing the movie they have the chance to experience a bit of who he was. I don’t think that many people really understand what kind of figure he was here in Brazil, I mean, 20 years ago Brazil wasn’t such a succesful and growing country as it is today, and Senna really was one of the very few reasons that most of the brazilian people had to cheer about. The movie depicts this very well at one point. The impact that his death brought on the people down here was something out of this world. Many people had no clue what f1 was, nor had seen a single race on their lives, but when he died, everyone here cried. In my opinion, when you watch the movie, you feel that Senna once again is doing his magic in F1 cars, for those 2 hours, once more. And because of that, you can’t help but to feel a very heavy mood towards the end of the movie, because you know what’s going to come next. Seeing today the footage of the fatal race weekend, you can see in Senna`s face that he had a bad feeling, after all that happened with Ratzenberger and Barrichello. Tears towards the end of the movie are a natural consequence for fans.

    All in all, I really enjoyed the movie, and as Keith brilliantly said, I would have loved if the movie had 3 parts of 3 hours each! It is a must see for fans of the sport!

    1. Well done describing that – seeing bits of his funeral gave me an impression of what you mean. I really hope the movie will soon hit the Netherlands too, although usually we end up having to wait while they fit subtitles.

  14. I just hope to catch it in the cinema’s here in the Czech Republic or in the Netherlands sometime next year, or at least 2012!

    1. Maybe next year Christmas we can go together here ;-)

  15. I think I am a fan of Senna simply because there was and has been no one like him. And yes I see that he was never 100% right. But I think his attitude towards racing that hehad you don’t see in current drivers. His saying ” you cease to be a racing driver when you don’t go for a gap” is both controversial and in part true. Jackie Stewart commented to senna that he also had a large number of accidents. Prost says he had a deathwish. As afan it was good to see a driver not saintly as he was not but as a driver he was above everyone else in his pursuit to be a racer. He drove on that edge that no one else has found , renowned for skill in difficult circumstances that other drivers shirked from. Yes I think he In part had a deathwish and part enjoyed pushing the barriers. Adelaide in the wet I remember he was the ONLY driver who wanted to race. Yes that goes against the human instinct but I think that’s what F 1 nerds people that wantto race and overcome the odds. I don’t see many like that on the grid since.maybe 2 drivers have shown a glimpse of that- but not to this extent.

    1. FINALLY !!!
      Someone is telling the truth….
      Still overarted after all these years and the myth of his life has become greater than the sum of his accomplishments. He killed himself in pursuit of glory an WAS A DANGER to all who raced against him. I simply don’t understand why so many of you treat him with such respect. I also saw every race during his time and note he was good but others were also good.

      1. Have to agree with Ted Bell here. Looking from a distance, my perspective on Senna has changed much. When I was a kid, he looked really cool to me, and he still does, kind of… But if I go back and play his races, which I taped on VHS :), then I find that he was more punk than racer.
        I have my doubts about how good he was now. I found one too many races where indeed he was fast in the first laps, then just got out of pace, but very few, other than Prost, Mansell, etc, would dare to overtake him, because he was such an effective danger, cutting trajectories and so on.
        Of course, for me, after having learned that he collided with the Ferrari, on purpose, is enough to demote the man to a 2nd class driver and not to a top of the tops.

  16. I really really can not wait for this….bring on June!!