Jackie Stewart, March, 1970

“Stewart”: feature-length documentary reviewed


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Whether you’re a veteran motorsport enthusiast or a recent convert to Formula 1, chances are you don’t need to be told who Jackie Stewart is.

As a three-time world champion who is rightly heralded for spearheading major advances of safety in Formula 1, later became a race-winning team principal and is still a regular figure in the paddock even today, Stewart is one of F1’s true living legends.

But more than 50 years since his first world championship triumph in 1969, it’s also the case that the majority of those who follow Formula 1 in 2022 were not around to see Stewart when he was at the peak of his powers as a driver. While many of us know who he was and what he achieved, a large proportion of those who now faithfully watch every grand prix will know little about Jackie Stewart the man.

Enter film maker Patrick Mark and his 90-minute documentary ‘Stewart’, currently airing exclusively on Sky television in the UK. Much like ‘Senna’ and Netflix’s ‘Schumacher’ attempted to chronicle the sporting lives of two of the most successful drivers motorsport has ever seen, ‘Stewart’ does much the same for the 83-year-old’s career.

But while the film is a celebration of the life of a champion, it is also as much a stark and, at times, brutal chronicle of death during Formula 1’s most dangerous era.

“I don’t know anyone who’s seen it who hasn’t had a weep,” Stewart told the Mirror after watching the completed film for the first time. “It’s been beautifully done. I think it will be the best motor racing film ever made – and I had nothing to do with it.”

High praise indeed – but does ‘Stewart’ truly live up to such plaudits?

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Narrated entirely by Stewart himself, with contributions from the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi and the late Murray Walker, ‘Stewart’ is a documentary where you can tell the thought and effort that has been put into every frame. From luxurious shots of the dramatic Dunbartonshire countryside Stewart hails from to interspersing archive footage with more modern shots of Stewart in the paddock filmed in 2019, the film rips along at a surprising pace. There is not a single shot of anyone sat in a chair talking into a camera to be found in this documentary.

Stewart remains a regular face in the paddock today
Naturally, the film focuses on Stewart’s career in racing. But ‘Stewart’ is not a documentary about a racing driver as it is about the life of a boy from Scotland living with severe dyslexia. From being berated as “stupid, dumb and thick” by his teachers to carefully hiding his functional illiteracy from the world well into superstardom, Stewart’s struggles navigating a world so heavily reliant on written communication becomes a central theme of the film.

So too does his marriage to wife Helen, who the documentary makes evidently clear was not simply a companion to Stewart and a mother to their children but someone absolutely integral to everything Stewart achieved both in his racing career and beyond. Various clips of Helen Stewart’s musings on her husband, her family and the nature of being a motorsport spouse recorded at the time help to provide a poignant perspective on Stewart’s career.

In fact, the film makers have dived deep into the archives to ensure that every aspect of the subject matter is illustrated with rich, vibrant and authentic footage from the era. Every clip so perfectly preserved, it’s hard to imagine it was possible to find analogue footage any clearer than this.

Naturally, safety – or the lack of in Formula 1’s “killer years” of the Sixties and Seventies – forms a major part of the narrative. In Stewart’s era, the cold reality of death hung heavy over each driver who climbed into the cramped, unprotected cockpits of their cars and it’s a reality that the film confronts head on.

It is important to warn that the film contains genuine footage of multiple fatal accidents which claimed the lives many of Stewart’s colleagues and friends: Lorenzo Bandini, Jochen Rindt, Piers Courage, Roger Williamson. Placed in and around more wholesome images of the Stewart family playing together in their Swiss home and of lavish award ceremonies bestowing honours to Stewart, the graphic images of his peers having their own lives cut short feels like a tonal whiplash, but it also conveys the harsh realities of the time so effectively.

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As next-door neighbour to the Stewarts, the sequence covering Rindt’s death and how Jackie and Helen Stewart supported Rindt’s widow Nina is particularly moving. Later, watching Stewart receive the distressful news of Williamson’s death first-hand after winning the race in Zandvoort feels almost voyeuristic, that this is a moment we as viewers have no right to be eavesdropping on.

Eventually, of course, the spotlight falls on Stewart’s relationship with his younger Tyrrell team mate, Francois Cevert. The tapestry of the friendship between the Stewarts and Cevert is woven together beautifully through candid clips of the two drivers playing games as Helen Stewart hauntingly recalls a strikingly prescient conversation she shared with Cevert just weeks before the final round of the 1973 world championship at Watkins Glen. When the inevitable finally occurs, it is truly a gut punch.

As well presented a film as ‘Stewart’ is, it is by no means free from criticism. While the film makes excellent use of historic footage, keen enthusiasts will spot when footage of the Nordschleife is mislabelled as ‘Spa-Francorchamps’. While the film is very deliberate in focussing on Stewart’s career in Formula 1, virtually all of his life after racing is entirely overlooked. It is also hard to ignore the prominent logos of a certain beer brand during any of the modern footage shown in the film.

But those are all minor gripes. At a feature-length run time of 90 minutes, ‘Stewart’ ultimately succeeds in providing an enthralling, informative and, at times, confronting film that is also inherently watchable. Whether you are a new fan, a lifelong F1 fanatic born after Stewart’s time or if you were even there to see these men race with your own eyes, this moving documentary is worth your time.

‘Stewart’ is available to watch in the UK on Sky Documentaries & NOW TV from today

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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25 comments on ““Stewart”: feature-length documentary reviewed”

  1. JYS’s succesful clay pigeon shooting career only receives the briefrest of passing references in the clip of a shot gun being put into a car.

  2. Sounds like nothing that hasn’t been done before. All Stewart’s history rightly focuses on his push for safety but never seems to be about his achievements. Just his friendships with the drivers and the fatalities. Every Stewart interview or feature always has him mentioning “There was a 1 in 4 chance I could die”

  3. Whether you’re a veteran motorsport enthusiast or a recent convert to Formula 1, chances are you don’t need to be told who Jackie Stewart is.

    Unless you’re Ben Stokes ;-)

  4. I watched him race on many occasions only in England unfortunately but as a great fan of his good mate Jochen Rindt. my admiration for Stewart was somewhat grudging, having said that when he was on top form which was 99% of the time he was superb, fantastically quick, magically smooth and relentless. I can understand some people berate him for constantly emphasising the dangers, but you had to be there ,when Jochen. was killed at Monza I was 20 and thought I was tough but I cried like a small child . When I was 40 my brother paid for us to go to Brands it was a charity event organised by Stewart we got to be driven round the Club Circuit by himself ,72 now one of the magic moments of my life.

    1. That’s amazing. Thanks a lot for sharing, Jeffrey!

      1. Yes it’s a shame, but not surprising that all Stewart stories focus on the fatalities. However he was instrumental in making the sport safer by getting the circuits to spend serious money on improvements and not treating the drivers like disposable gladiators.

    2. Hi Jeffrey, I’m 71 and remember everything just as you do, and it somehow makes me feel special to have watched all the early greats such as Jack Brabham; Graham Hill; Bruce McLaren; Jacky Ickx & Sterling Moss et al., the list stretches out like a roll of honour no-one can burn. Jackie Stewart will remain one of those greats forever, regardless of this new documentary, because we can remember what he did in the Car without referring to his war on unsafe circuits.

      There will always be new greats, they are born with regularity to fill the grids with excitement at what they can achieve with four wheels and an engine. But for the few of us left to mourn the passing of those greats, we can still relive the moments we remember with a smile or a tear. Long live Jackie Stewart and his ilk.

  5. I am looking forward to this documentary. It is very interesting to hear the perspectives of different drivers about the dangers, with Tony Brooks, for example, saying that he vowed never to drive a car that he thought might have any problems with it out of fear that it would cause him to crash, and that mindset probably lost him the championship in 1959 when he pitted on lap one in Sebring thinking he had damage when he didn’t, and set a pace thereafter that would have won him the race and championship. But on another day, that decision may have saved him his life.

    Jackie Stewart is always linked with safety in Formula 1 and is best known for helping improve the safety of the sport, but he is one driver who I think is often overlooked a bit too much when it comes to the GOAT debate. He was certainly the best of his era by a considerable distance, with only Jochen Rindt really at a similar level on pace but not nearly as complete as Stewart (similar to Hakkinen and Schumacher). He also had the Clark trait of being very smooth in his driving, but could be exceptionally quick such as when he carved through the pack in Monza 1973 to win the championship, or when he won by four minutes on the Nordschleife in 1968 in torrential conditions, beating Jacky Ickx who was a specialist both in the wet and on the ‘Ring. And of his three titles, he won two of them dominantly and one without the best car. And I have never been totally convinced that his 1969 Matra and 1971 Tyrrell were totally dominant cars anyway. Perhaps they were the best, but not nearly by the margin of his championship victories. He also made very few mistakes. If picking the greatest of all time was a box-ticking exercise, I think Stewart would have it, although in reality he wasn’t quite as good as Jim Clark.

    Francois Cevert is a driver forever linked with Stewart who it sounds like will play a big role in the documentary. He improved substantially over his time in Formula 1 and by 1973 he really wasn’t that far off Sir JYS at all. I remain convinced he would have been world champion in 1974 with Tyrrell had he not been killed. Roger Williamson’s death is a particularly tragic one as well because it seemed so very preventable, while Jochen Rindt was Stewart’s closest challenger and could have had a lot more success in the coming years, although I have heard he promised to retire after winning the title anyway.

    Jackie Stewart is a true legend of the sport, and I am looking forward to his documentary.

    1. A great knowledgeable assessment of which I cannot fault in all respects, for me the Clark Stewart comparison is spot on. I feel we may be accused of National bias but we can take extreme solace in the fact that Senna. and Fangio agreed with us ,who are we mere mortals to disagree.

    2. That’s an excellent post, F1 frog. Thank you.
      I think you may well be right about Cevert being champion in ’74, considering Scheckter, his much less experienced replacement at Tyrrell, went all the way to the final round with a chance of the title. Jackie and François’ master-and-pupil relationship is hard to imagine now, a case of so much mutual respect and very little ego. JYS has no problem saying openly that there were several races in ’73 where François could have beaten him if he’d wished, but was happy to hold station behind. In other words, the pupil was ready in ’73 to take the reins in ’74.
      François’ accident was a cruel way for both their careers to end – crueller for François, of course, but cruel for Jackie too to have to retire on such a sad note.
      You’re right too to note the strange way that Jackie is becoming more overlooked in the “who’s the greatest” debate. Sadly the new breed of F1 fan is less interested in older history and the name of Stewart is not the only one in danger of undeserved neglect.
      Just a little point on Brooks’ precautionary stop at Sebring. It was out of something more complex than just a *fear* of crashing. Brooks was a very religious person, a devout catholic, and two previous, serious crashes had caused him to reflect on the value of life. He had come to the view that life was a God-given gift which he had no right to squander recklessly and that driving on with the safety of the car in doubt was contrary to that belief. An interesting and probably rare viewpoint in a racing driver!
      In conclusion this brings me back to JYS. I remember watching or reading (or maybe both) an interview with him years ago in which he discussed his feelings after one of the big fatal accidents which touched him most – Rindt or Cevert – and saying that he was not a very religious man but that night he was moved to pray. Perhaps this moment is recalled in the new documentary. It certainly brought home the visceral nature of the sport back then.

    3. Very well said Sir, I can’t fault your reasoning or opinion.

  6. I don’t suppose the certain beer brand is Younger’s Tartan!
    Highly unlikely, I know, but it would be appropriate in this case and I’ve just learned that its production has recently been revived after many years’ absence.

  7. A great driver. A great contribution to the safety of our sport. And a great narcissist who has spent the latter half of his life criticising every other driver in the sport.

  8. The image at the top of this article is just crazy. I morbidly keep going back to look at it, and feel worse every time I do.

    I don’t think I really learned anything new about Jackie, but that is probably because Jackie has been so vocal for so many years I feel like he would cross the street to go tell someone about himself. He’d be a nightmare if someone gave him a megaphone.

    I watched it half asleep on the sofa, so maybe I missed them, but I feel like Jim Clark and Helen’s dementia were somewhat skipped over. Perhaps because he has talked about both at length already.

    The footage I thought was incredible, there was a lot I hadn’t seen before and in brilliant colour, the BRM’s & Matra’s sliding all over the place at incredible speed. It’s the first time I’ve seen that era of cars look really quick.

    Perhaps what grabbed me the most was his talking on dyslexia and illiteracy and the fact he even hid it from Helen. Obviously our understanding of dyslexia improved greatly in the 20th century, but I hate to think how many other Jackie’s are out there, living their lives without words and having to hide it. It can’t have been easy.

  9. @willwood did you forget the rating for this article?

    Great review, looking forward to watching this.

  10. Could anything be more peak Jackie Stewart than Jackie Stewart calling a film made about Jackie Stewart ‘the best motor racing film ever made’.

    1. And also him saying “I had nothing to do with it”, when according to the article he narrates the entire thing. Fair enough he probably didn’t write it, but he wouldn’t have read anything out that he didn’t agree with, so he must have had *something* to do with it.

  11. I think a lot of people exclude Stewart from the conversation about the best ever due to his slightly racist attitudes towards Lewis Hamilton over the recent years. It has certainly tainted my opinion of him

    1. As well as the well documented comments from Willy T Ribbs about Stewart’s attitude and opinions in the 70’s. As great a driver as he was modern society demands more than just talent or success for someone to be lauded, they need to be free from vices or deficiencies in personality which is no bad thing in my opinion

      1. As great a driver as he was modern society demands more than just talent or success for someone to be lauded, they need to be free from vices or deficiencies in personality which is no bad thing in my opinion

        So they have to be perfect? Even outside of their profession and the media spotlight? How’s that for piling on the pressure…
        Many would say that attitude is worse than anything Stewart has ever said. Expecting a sportsperson to leave behind their humanity and become something else entirely… One way ticket to mental illness coming right up.

        If people think Stewart is racist, they are probably projecting quite a bit. Maybe listen to him objectively and without imposing any bias of your own. He can be pretty tough on ‘white’ people too….
        And respect that even if you don’t agree with his opinion, he has as much right to have it as everyone else does theirs.

        1. Not perfect. Just not racist. He’s hard on Hamilton for one reason.

          “Many would say that attitude is worse than anything Stewart has ever said.” Nice Trumpian argument. Many would say Stewart is racist. Many would say you are too.

          1. Not perfect. Just not racist. He’s hard on Hamilton for one reason.

            Why is it that only the most extreme Hamilton supporters play the ‘racism’ card?

            Many would say Stewart is racist. Many would say you are too.

            Case in point.

      2. they need to be free from vices or deficiencies in personality

        You mean like being judgemental?

    2. I can’t deny that I’ve been disappointed to say the least by many of Sir Jackie’s remarks about Sir Lewis in recent years.
      (I stress “recent years” because JYS was positive to the point of being effusive at the beginning of Lewis’ F1 career, which alone is strong evidence against the idea that he is racist – google his remarks from that time if you don’t believe me).

      And Willy T Ribbs’ attack is clearly driven by strong personal feelings, and Willy is someone that I, like many motor sport fans, admire and respect. So his words are troubling. But on the other hand, as far as I can make out, he has never explained even in the vaguest detail what Stewart allegedly did or said.

      What troubles me most is that all of these accusations that Jackie Stewart is a racist, whether from Willy T Ribbs or from those fans who deduce that such attitudes must lie behind Stewart’s negativity towards Lewis Hamilton, absolutely fly in the face of a particular engagement to which JYS has been utterly devoted, with the minimum of fanfare or publicity, for nearly sixty years.

      Many of you will have heard of Hackney. If you haven’t, which will probably be the case if you’re not from the UK, it’s a part of London with a lot of deprivation and it happens to have a very large number of inhabitants of Afro-Caribbean and other minority ethnic descent. There is a youth club there called the Springfield Club. In the 1960s the club president was Graham Hill – I’m not sure how Graham came to be involved with it, but he too was devoted to it – and in 1965 he invited Jackie to become its vice-president. When Graham was killed ten years later, Jackie took over the presidency, and he has remained in the role ever since. It’s no mere honorific position. Jackie, like Graham before him, has always been very active in it and over the years many of the top drivers have been persuaded by one or both of them to come to the club’s awards night and other fundraising events, including Jim Clark, James Hunt, Jody Scheckter and yes, Sir Lewis Hamilton. In fact, Lewis’ very first public appearance after being announced as a McLaren driver for 2007 took place at the Springfield, where Jackie couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about him, as indeed he was when Lewis returned there at the end of his debut season.

      In fact, it’s worth saying that the Springfield Club is one of the whole of Formula One’s most honourable secrets (or near secrets anyway). We’re quick to think of F1 as a world of greed and ego, but when you think that each year for sixty years, its biggest stars have been willingly coming to this ordinary, unglamorous, backstreet club to help and inspire its young, underprivileged (and, as it happens, largely black and minority ethnic) members, with very little media coverage if any, it reflects extremely well on the sport. And at the root of the whole thing is one John Young Stewart.

      Such is the Stewart family’s dedication to the Springfield that, as old age is no doubt forcing Jackie to step back a little, his son Paul is now the Executive Chairman, in which position he is emulating his dad’s energetic commitment to the club.

      I’m certainly not calling Willy T Ribbs a liar. As I have said, I respect him enormously. But what he has said is so much at odds with the work that Jackie Stewart has done for so long at the Springfield Club, I really do believe there can only have been the most dreadful misunderstanding.

  12. Maybe one day a corner somewhere in the world will be named after him…?

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