The recent news that a feature film is set to be made about the life and times of Barry Sheene will have been met by a mixture of both delight and scepticism amongst all knowledgeable race fans.
Hit or miss?
Films about the motorcycling world have tended to be hit and miss affairs, quite a few in the latter category, and the only ones that have achieved notable success have tended to be documentaries as opposed to feature films.
TT:3D Closer to the Edge was an unbelievable success story, particularly for Guy Martin whose life has been transformed on the back of this stunning film’s success which captured the whole essence and emotions of the TT quite brilliantly. Whilst not as successful in terms of box office figures, Road – the story of the Dunlop generations – was also met with equally positive reviews and acclaim.
But feature films have never quite hit those heights. In the car world, films like Grand Prix with James Garner starring as an American Formula One driver, and Le Mans with Steve McQueen were both well received whilst the recent Rush, a story of the battles between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, was a superb production. It is the latter upon which the Sheene biopic is set to be styled upon.
Silver Dream Racer:
One of the most famous motorcycling films was, of course, Silver Dream Racer starring David Essex and was a rags to riches tale about an aspiring national racer going on to enter and win the British Grand Prix on his home built racer. Far fetched to say the least, the story line was weak and the camera work patchy and the fact that the film ended with the hero getting killed seconds after crossing the line pretty much summed it up. As one of my dad’s friends succinctly put it ‘Silver Dream Racer – more like a nightmare’.
Another film long consigned to the scrap heap was Space Riders, made in 1984 and ironically about Sheene’s pursuit of the world title and his battle back from his near fatal accident at Silverstone. Somewhat bizarrely, Sheene only featured in 20% of the footage and it’s long been forgotten by many; indeed, it cannot even be bought on DVD.
Going back further generations, films such as The Wild One and Easy Rider have far better reputations but these were generic films that happened to feature motorbikes in them as opposed to being specifically about the motorcycle racing world.
Made for the big screen:
As mentioned above though, we have reason be optimistic given the success and quality of TT:3D Closer to the Edge, Road and Rush. Times have changed and there’s genuine cause and reason to be optimistic. As we all know, motorcycle racing is an unbelievable high speed sport with an adrenalin rush like no other so, with the right people, there’s no reason why it’s selling points and qualities cannot be transferred onto the big screen.
Top class writers have been enlisted to produce the script in the shape of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais – writers of TV classics including Porridge, The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehn Pet – so that should be one box ticked at least.
A family affair:
The Sheene family and close friends including Steve Parrish and Nick Harris are also set to be involved so this should ensure an accurate picture is portrayed and let’s face it there’s no more dramatic story than the career of Sheene, particularly those high speed crashes at Daytona in 1975 and Silverstone seven years later.
And with his playboy lifestyle away from the track, as well as his fame that saw him become a British icon, there’s a lot there to give directors, producers and writers plenty to work with to make the film as entertaining and, ultimately, as successful as possible.
Despite being set 40 years ago, the epic battles and rivalry between Lauda and Hunt was superbly captured in Rush and the fact it wasn’t of the modern era was irrelevant. Its storyline, most of which was said to be true, action sequences and drama was enough to reel in both the young and old.
Ultimately, this should be the benchmark for the Sheene biopic and if it can get somewhere close then we’re all set for a thrilling ride.
So, will you be catching the Sheene biopic? Here’s a little teaser of what is in store…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.