fri 19/07/2024

Ferrari: Race to Immortality review - death and glory in 1950s motor racing | reviews, news & interviews

Ferrari: Race to Immortality review - death and glory in 1950s motor racing

Ferrari: Race to Immortality review - death and glory in 1950s motor racing

Early years of the legendary red cars from Maranello

Racing Brits (left to right): Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins

And so the mini-boom in motor racing movies continues, this time with a look back at the history of Ferrari and the intense on-track battles of the 1950s, a decade in which the Scuderia won four of its 15 Formula One World Drivers Championships.

In particular, Race to Immortality zooms in on the unique partnership of the British drivers Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, who called each other “mon ami mate” and would split their race winnings equally between themselves. Their machiavellian boss Enzo Ferrari began to suspect that their great friendship was blunting their will to win races.

The film coincides with this year’s 70th anniversary of Ferrari, but makes no pretence of being a thorough history of the illustrious marque. It chiefly concerns itself with the period roughly bracketed by the traumatic 1955 Le Mans race where Hawthorn won (driving a Jaguar on that occasion) despite the accident which killed more than 80 spectators, and Collins’s death and Hawthorn’s championship victory with Ferrari, both in 1958 (pictured below, Enzo Ferrari with Collins).Enzo Ferrari, Peter CollinsDirector Daryl Goodrich has conceived the film as an elegy for a gilded but unspeakably dangerous era in which daring young men and their invariably glamorous female companions laughed in the face of the sport’s terrifying mortality statistics (there’s a little clip of World War Two pilots jumping into their Spitfires to reinforce the point). This creates a slight sense of confusion, since it means the narrative isn’t all about Ferrari after all, but Goodrich has compensated by packing his film with sumptuous and spectacular period footage, most of it in colour and of amazingly high quality.

Thus you get impossibly gorgeous scenes of sun-drenched Monte Carlo with historic racing cars zooming under the palms through its winding streets, views of the motor-racing circus basking under brilliant Florida skies, period clips from Monza, Silverstone and the fearsome Nürburgring and plenty more. Home movie footage of drivers and friends cheerfully socialising, apparently without a care in the world, lends considerable poignancy. The sense of a lost heroic era is also amplified by the way that the 1950s cars, especially the brilliant red Ferraris (pictured below), were like mobile works of art compared to the angular, computer-designed creations of the present day.Voice-over commentary – everybody now copies the Senna technique of keeping the voices but dropping the talking heads – is supplied by veteran motorsport journalists and drivers of yore including Stirling Moss, Phil Hill and Alfonso de Portago, while Hawthorn’s ex-fiancée Jean Howarth and Collins’s American widow Louise King lend some personal colour to the story. King in particular is striking for the way she cheerfully celebrates her brief year-and-a-half of marriage to Collins and recalls how they always refused to talk about death. It was Collins’s demise, at the age of 26, which prompted Enzo Ferrari’s comment that “the era of gentleman drivers is ended”. It was Enzo too who remarked bleakly that “one must keep working continually. Otherwise one thinks of death.”

Extraordinary times, and that line about the past being a foreign country where they do things differently seems especially apt. It’s a pity that Goodrich has over-egged it by drenching his soundtrack with grandiose and sorrowful music, because the images and the story speak for themselves. This film isn’t designed as a multiplex-buster, but anyone with a taste for motorsport history will find it irresistible.

One must keep working continually. Otherwise one thinks of death


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters