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Road – the film

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Road was shown in cinemas across the country on the evening of 12th June. I was lucky enough to attend the Leicester Square event where Michael and William Dunlop along with Suzi Perry and John McGuinness had a Q&A session after the showing.

So how was the film?

Not what I expected. And that is no bad thing. In fact, it was a fantastic surprise. And from what the Dunlop brothers have had to say, I don’t think they were quite prepared for it either.

Road cuts through the bullshit.

It isn’t a fly-on-the-wall documentary of two brothers racing in 2012. What it is is a film about the psychology of the road racer. It gets deep under the skin of the world’s most famous little family of road racers and exposes the sheer extremity of emotions associated with a sport that has caused so much pain and suffering.

Take Michael. Michael is still very young and where you meet him determines which Michael you meet. In the paddock, before or after a race, expect a bit of an animal. You can guarantee some frank opinions, often a bad temper and seldom much attention to the etiquette of interviews. Outside the paddock and away from the track, anyone I know who knows him tells me he’s a very friendly chap – he certainly was when we spoke to him after the film.

But the Michael you get in the film is different. He’s just a son, grandson and brother. No bullshit, no bravado whatsoever. Often it’s just pure, raw, unbridled emotion. The makers have managed to strip back the leathers, the layers of oil and grease and race face to get to the young man inside.

The film interviews a carefully selected circle of friends and family of the Dunlop racing dynasty and exposes the love, hurt, sadness and the insuppressible drive that keeps these men going. It draws parallels between the Joey/Robert era and the Michael/William eras using some spectacular footage from both. It tells the story through the generations and brings in the mothers, wives, sisters, brothers and friends of men who risk their lives for the sport that they appear to be utterly addicted to.

Turn the sound up – way up – because the soundtrack of mechanical frenzy interspersed through the film had my hair standing on end. And some of the footage will have your heart in your mouth if not your hands over your eyes. This is some hard-hitting stuff.

I can tell you that at stages of the show, I was surrounded by sobbing and weeping. I’d be amazed if there was a dry eye in the house. But I also felt a huge sense of pride throughout the film. A sense of gratitude for being able to have witnessed so many of the events shown in the film, celebrated so many of the wins that these men brought back to Ballymoney. This film really gives a flavour of just how extreme the highs and the lows of road racing can be – and nobody has experienced as many extremes as the Dunlops.

By the end of the film you still won’t understand the mind of the road racer. You may be more confused than before about what drives this extraordinary behaviour.

But I can guarantee you’ll be in awe.

My congratulations to the family and friends who were prepared to dig so deep into their emotions to share them with us, and to the filmmakers for creating something so unique and absorbing.

But don’t just take my word for it – the Financial Times review of Road (bear in mind a film about Ballymoney men racing bikes on roads) gave it a coveted five star rating…

 

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