Sky’s recent documentary “Stewart” delves into the life of legendary three-time F1 world champion, Sir Jackie Stewart. We follow him on a wild ride that goes from the roaring motorsports scene to exploring profound themes of loss, love and human vulnerability.
Set primarily in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the film gives us a great insight into the past of the sport, while also offering glimpses into the protagonist’s present. Directed and written by Patrick Mark (The Last Man on the Moon), the movie is brought to life with a gentle touch and palpable personal connection, courtesy of its producer Mark Stewart, who happens to be Sir Jackie’s son.
“Stewart” jumpstarts with glorious opening sequences in the picturesque Scotland, Sir Jackie driving in the countryside and walking his dog in the woods. The opening definitely takes us to his most natural habitat and most importantly, back to his origins.
At a soothing pace, we discover a man full of complexities and anxieties. As it turns out, much of it is due to childhood traumas ignited by his severe dyslexia and frequent humiliation by teachers and fellow students. As he says, he carried with himself this deep sense of being “stupid, dumb and thick” from his formative, early years on. In one poignant scene Sir Jackie reveals that he tricked even his wife into the notion he had not troubles reading and writing for decades (!). He was 43 when eventually he was finally diagnosed with dyslexia, which liberated him from the suffocating burden.
The documentary is narrated by Stewart himself, which gives a nice, heartwarming touch to the story. Every single shot we see is either from archival footage or newly shot original material. As we follow Jackie’s journey, we discover different locations important to him and see people interact in the most very natural way. There are no dry, talking heads sequences and interviews, which is wonderfully refreshing.
Stewart is a really tastefully and sensitively directed and written film. It has an even mixture of drama and entertainment, gentleness and tragedy, glamour and hippie fashion. We go from “meeting” the Beatles to Elizabeth Taylor, from “hanging out” with Lotus owner Colin Chapman to legendary team principal Ken Tyrrell. The documentary is a moving trip back in time where Stewart reminisces on the most important moments and people in his career and personal life.
Richard Wiseman’s archival footage and his ability to dig up never-before-seen footage yet again proves to be amazing. We discover brand new material on classic tracks like Silverstone and Nürburgring (aka “The Green Hell”). Mark also uses scenes from Polanski’s observant documentary “The Weekend of Champion”. The 90-minute film follows the legendary Scot on the weekend of the 1971 Monaco GP.
On what it was like to be a driver of the era, Sir Jackie says “We raced. There were no run-off areas, there were no deformable structures. In the cockpits of the car, we were sitting on fuel tanks all the time, literally completely under your legs. But we didn’t know any better. We drove sports cars, GT cars, Can-Am cars, Indy cars, touring cars…because the money was relatively small. The first time I made a million pounds was in 1971.”
A significant portion of “Stewart” focuses on the dangers of motorsport and the dangers of having emotions interfere with racing. Sir Jackie was reportedly great at leaving emotions behind the moment he got his seatbelt fastened. The 83-year-old now recalls losing dozens of his friends in racing accidents, from his ex-roommate Jim Clark to his close friend Jochen Rindt. The dramatic high and the darkest chapter of the documentary is undoubtedly, the fatal crash of François Cevert, Stewart’s young protegee. Cevert suffered a horrifying accident during a practice at Watkins Glen in 1973. The young Frenchman’s death made Sir Jackie withdraw from what would have been the last race of his career. No wonder why he was and still is a great advocate of safety measures on and off-track.
These days, Sir Jackie alongside his push for safety in motorsport, is a fighter for social changes and destigmatization of mental illnesses. Much of the documentary focuses on Sir Jackie’s wonderful partnership with his wife and the power of their togetherness in both good and bad. Helen and Jackie Stewart have been married for over 60 years. In 2014, Helen was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. Due to the family’s direct personal involvement, the Stewarts set up their own charity (Race Against Dementia) and became advocates of caregiving and dementia related medical research. Finding a cure for his beloved Helen, is undoubtedly Sir Jackie’s priority these days.
Mark Stewart said at this year’s Festival of Speed in Goodwood: “I’ve made a documentary about my father called “Stewart”. It focuses on his career in Formula One of course, but more importantly it is about him and my mother. My mother was diagnosed with dementia a few years back, and we hope that both the documentary and me driving here today raise awareness of dementia. It might make people donate to research and just get to know more about the disease.”
And now, a bit of what the filmmakers did not quite achieve. It is a real shame that most of Sir Jackie’s post-racing life – from working for ABC to being a Ford ambassador – goes overlooked in the documentary. Knowing more about his later life, would have given us a fuller picture of this remarkable man. He is still actively pursuing and fighting for a number of important things! Observing present day Sir Jackie, taking part in F1 events and interacting with people in the paddock, is wonderful. However, seeing more of him in his daily life and routine, getting closer to him as a person, could have also benefited the film. Rawness and little details bear real power. One more tiny critical remark: the topic of dyslexia ended up being overused. On the Nth mentioning, it just stopped adding to the story and rather started taking away from it.
To sum up, Stewart is a really nice jam for any race fan, and a heartwarming story to non “petrolheads”. Sir Jackie himself telling us about his friends and family is just priceless. As he has recently said on the film: “I don’t know anyone who’s seen it who hasn’t had a weep. It’s been a beautifully done documentary. I think it will be the best motorsports film ever made, and I had nothing to do with it.” How wonderful it is to hear a father this proud of his son?
“Stewart” is available to watch in the UK on Sky Documentaries & NOW TV.
~ by Dora Endre ~