“Mosley: It’s Complicated” – Max Mosley biopic reviewed

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Who do you first think of when you hear the name ‘Mosley’?

Among motorsport fans and those outside Britain, the answer is likely to be Max Mosley, the controversy-courting former FIA president whose final term was involved a series of escalating scandals, culminating in an extraordinary front-page news story exposing details of his sexual practices.

But he spent much of his life in the shadow of a Mosley who was even more notorious, at least in his home country. During the thirties Oswald tried to popularise in Britain a similar brand of fascist politics to that practiced by Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany.

The younger Mosley’s pursuit of a career untainted by association with his father’s politics led him to motor racing and, ultimately, an 18-year stint at the top of the international automobile federation. While overseeing Formula 1 and steering it through rough waters following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in 1994, Mosley also led a push for improved road car safety standards.

This forms the basis of a new biopic, “Mosley: It’s Complicated”, released in cinemas today, billed as “a no-holds-barred study of one of the most successful yet controversial figures in motorsport”.

It’s produced and directed by Michael Shevloff, whose previous motorsport productions include 2013 documentary “1: Life on the Limit”, which examined danger and safety in Formula 1. Having found that a mixed bag at best, my expectations weren’t high for “Mosley: It’s Complicated”, particularly given its drier subject matter.

But I was pleasantly surprised by “It’s Complicated”. By avoiding the plodding narration of “Life on the Limit” and harnessing a wealth of well-selected archive material, it tells its story through original interviews with key players, chiefly Mosley himself.

It sets out its stall somewhat predictably early on – playing down his parents’ links to Hitler, playing up the unsympathetic upbringing and highlighting a drive to improve car safety standards in India.

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Where it really gets going – at least for motorsport fans – is where Mosley allies with Bernie Ecclestone and starts running rings about the FIA and FISA. In the eighties this was headed by the autocratic Jean-Marie Balestre – Mosley denies being the source of an infamous picture of the young Frenchman wearing a Nazi uniform, a detail which has obvious relevance as the film reaches its final act.

Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley
Ecclestone years provide the most entertainment in ‘Mosley’
Whether for his handling of ‘Indygate, ‘Spygate’ or any number of other controversies, Mosley was never short of critics during his spell as FIA president. The film should come with a warning for their benefit that they may risk injury through the eye-rolling some scenes will provoke. “I was inundated with one Formula 1 scandal after another,” Mosley bemoans at one point. Perhaps, but how many of those did he inflame or ignite?

However many, they did not include the last great Mosley scandal, which catapulted him to international attention. The infamous News of the World expose, accusing him of participating in a “Nazi orgy with hookers” made Mosley a household name. His courtroom victory over the newspaper and its subsequent closure following the exposure of its phone-hacking practices takes up the final third of the film.

Mosley gets in a final swipe over the end credits, hinting at “three suspects” behind the News of the World leak who will “need some lawyers”. Of course, he did not live to see whether those punches eventually landed, having passed away in May.

Even at an undemanding running time of 96 minutes, “It’s Complicated” drags in its final act. Though Mosley was clearly wronged, and notwithstanding his sad passing, he does not make for an especially sympathetic figure and watching him argue with a newspaper does not make for gripping drama.

Is it worth your time? If you followed the Mosley era of F1 with interest, absolutely. But don’t go in expecting anything with the polish or emotional punch of superior and more spectacular documentaries such as Senna.

Clearly coming with the blessing of its subject, “It’s Complicated” toes the Mosley line in much the same way his autobiography did. It swerves a few tough questions, not least over the decision to sell the commercial rights to Formula 1 – to his friend Ecclestone – for arguably far less than they were worth. But it presents his side of the story in an engaging and at times entertaining style.

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RaceFans rating

Rating three out of five

“Mosley: It’s Complicated”

Publisher: Flat-out Films / Diamond Docs Production
Published: July 2021

“Mosley: It’s Complicated” trailer

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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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  • 2 comments on ““Mosley: It’s Complicated” – Max Mosley biopic reviewed”

    1. As soon as I saw it has a lot of Mosley interview in it I knew it’s not for me. Charming, plausible, but a truly awful person.

    2. Tim Marshall
      9th July 2021, 17:22

      The Times critic was certainly not impressed. (Today’s Times 2)
      I won’t be going to the Cinema to see it, I’ll wait till it appears on TV.

      Reply moderated

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