Film Review: Group B

A few days ago, I (rather belatedly) reviewed the 2015 Documentary Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans. Today on YouTube, I found another short film from 3 years ago, starring some guy called Richard Madden. 

The film itself is less than 30 minutes, and (according to IMDB) is set in, 
“1986, the peak of high-octane Group B rally driving”. The fourth generation Ford Transit (2000-2014) and second generation Renault Master (1997-2010) are therefore a touch anachronistic. 

Its a Rush-esque continuity error – but unlike Rush, this is the film’s only continuity misdemeanour. Strip away the 1986 pretence, and this is a film that has strength in depth that out classes the Hunt/Lauda biopic.

Richard Madden, recently in the public’s consciousness through the hit series Bodyguard, plays bearded fictional rally driver Shane Hunter, who is returning to the rallying world for the first time since a crash in which his co-driver died.

Alongside him in the cockpit for this stage, in both a literal and emotional sense, is experienced co-driver Martin Kelly (played by the impressively moustached Michael Smiley). Smiley’s Kelly is Obi Wan Kenobi to Madden’s Anakin Skywalker Hunter, an experienced soul trying to help a young and angry broken one. This dynamic happens whilst they’re travelling through forests at over 100mph in a 410bhp MG Metro 6R4.

‘Travelling’ being the operative word – because here’s another area where Group B excels. Unless you saw the credits, you wouldn’t know it was stunt driver David Higgins who did the driving. You spend the entire stage inside the rally car with Madden and Smiley; the trees flash past their heads as Madden grapples with the wheel and Smiley rattles through his pace notes.

Richard Madden (left) and Michael Smiley prove an excellent combination both on screen and in the car

Enter VFX Supervisor and Lead Compositor Felipe Olid Guerrero, whose credits include The Martian, Thor Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War – to name just a few. His work may not form the bulk of the film but it occurs where most of the character development takes place (on the stage) and helps suspend belief.

Tying this all together is co-writer and director Nick Rowland who excellently builds a narrative around a niche sport and gives every element life; even the process of putting on the helmets somehow comes alive. In many ways the film becomes not about the characters but why they are risking it all and it is this that makes it as endearing to me personally.

Like the rally stage, it is a short, sharp adrenaline packed ride full of noise, furry and emotion. Equally similarly there is a quiet before and reflection after. If anything, its philosophical, and a motorsport film hasn’t done that for quite some time – not since 1971 when an actor released a film about a motor-racing.

If you’ve read this blog you’ll know of my love for Steve McQueen’s Le Mans; how its not really about the plot but the cars and why the drivers are racing. “Racing is life. Anything before or after, is just waiting” says McQueen in Le Mans – and the spirit of those words emanates from this film.

So unlike any other racing film since Le Mans, Group B seems to get motor racing drivers and fans. It doesn’t overload us with dialogue because it realises an essential truth in motorsport. That words are great but that actions say more.

 



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