A Year in Yellow
A new documentary looks back on an incredible 12 months for Bradley Wiggins. We talk to the director.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 06/11/12 8:52am
As the title reveals, John Dower's new documentary - 'Bradley Wiggins: A Year In Yellow' - focuses on Wiggins' successful bid to win the 2012 Tour de France.
It's beautifully shot, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and is sprinkled with the straight-talking which has endeared Wiggins to the British public.
We first meet Wiggins during Christmas 2011 at his home in rural Lancashire. The Tour de France is just over six months away.
"Cut off, bit remote innit," he says in the opening line of the film before we see him relaxing in his chair drinking a cuppa while sporting one of his numerous Fred Perry shirts (he has since designed two collections for them).
"I'm a hermit at heart," he reveals later and you get the sense his perfect day would be locked away in a room listening to The Who and The Small Faces.
But then, of course, there's Bradley the cycling champ. The multiple Olympic gold medal winner, who is trying to defy the huge weight of history, the massive expectations and the gaze of millions by becoming the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France.
In other words, the man who wants to cut himself off has a huge (mod) target on his back.
It's this idea of two Bradleys which underpins the film and even those closest to him find the contrast hard to fathom - including wife Cath.
As a husband and dad to their two kids she describes him as "brilliant".
As the ultra-driven cycling perfectionist, she describes him (after asking if she can say a rude word) as a "bit of a t***".
It's Cath (an excellent cyclist herself) who keeps Bradley sane when the goldfish bowl existence he leads in the Tour de France gets too much while his kids also play a big part in keeping him grounded. He delights in telling how he was quickly brought down to earth on his triumphant return from Paris when son Ben needed to empty his bowels at the airport. "Dad, wipe me a***," recalls Wiggins in a high-pitched voice as Ben giggles over his shoulder.
The happy, loving relationship Wiggins enjoys with his own children again highlights a huge contrast - this time the one he had, or rather didn't have, with his dad.
Bradley's Australian father Garry (also a cyclist) walked out on the family when he was a toddler. With nowhere to go, they moved in with his Nan.
Wiggins explains matter-of-factly how Garry, who fell in with the wrong crowd, is believed to have been murdered at a house party in 2008 and his body dumped. There is no wobble in his voice. He formed no emotional bond with his father and has no regrets about not flying over for the funeral. "F*** him," says Wiggins, "he wasn't there for me."
If his father did give him anything - Wiggins would probably be quick to shoot the idea down - it might be his non-conformist attitude to life.
Wiggins has had no media training, isn't afraid to wander into iffy territory about a certain disgraced entertainer in the Q&A that follows the premiere of the documentary and also admits that during The Olympics, which is covered at the end of the film, he questioned whether he should get involved with "Lord Coe and his band of merry men".
He's also brutally frank about Lance Armstrong who had all seven of his Tour de France wins rescinded after being exposed as a drugs cheat.
Typically, though, Wiggins uses his sharp wit to get the point across: "As we sit here now I've won more Tours than Lance Armstrong," he says, drawing a huge round of applause from the gathered press.
As well as his own nearest and dearest, the film also reveals more about Bradley's cycling family.
He describes Team Sky general manager Dave Brailsford as a bit like a big brother - "we've been out on the p*** together numerous times" - while head coach Shane Sutton, the pit-bull Aussie motivator, is more the father-figure.
Sutton, who lives in a tatty room above a cycling shop, provides a good portion of the film's funnies with his blunt assessments and hopefully there are more lined up for the DVD extras.
One surprise, given that director John Dower was the man behind Britpop doc 'Live Forever', is the music used in the film.
Mostly it's sparse Spanish guitar, which fits the imagery of the winding hills, or cinematic as the tension of the Tour builds. The only nod to Wiggins' well-documented mod leanings is a clip of him listening to All Around The World by The Jam whilst sat in his hotel room shortly before the Tour begins.
John explains why in the interview below but, without doubt, the choice of music he goes for gives the film gravitas. This is not a rushed-to-air "Bradley Wiggins: My Life" piece of bandwagoning. It's thoughtful, extremely well-crafted and always very watchable.
At different times in the film, Wiggins is described as 'insular', 'shy', 'precise', 'calculated', 'prickly' and even 'the life and soul of the party'. Put all those together and maybe there is a one-word answer - 'complex'.
Perhaps the most revealing passage is when he describes one of his cycling heroes, Robert Millar - the only Brit ever to have won the Tour de France's King of the Mountains title.
"Everyone said he was strange and weird, difficult to deal with. I liked that about him, that he was his own man really. He didn't give a f*** about anyone else or what anyone thought. He'd disappear and retreat and be difficult to get hold of. He's a lovely guy, he just likes his privacy."
Those words could easily apply to Wiggins himself.
Interview with director John Dower
Q: Did directing Live Forever help get Bradley to agree to do the film?
John Dower: Without a doubt. He's a genuine fan of that film. He can even quote large sections of it (he's even watched the DVD extras)
Q: Woody Allen famously says he's always somewhat dissatisfied at his films as they never quite turn out the way he envisaged them in his head. So... did your film come out the way you wanted it?
JD: I'm a miserable git so I'm always dissatisfied. At the end there's always bits that you wanted to have kept in, moments that you witnessed but didn't quite capture on camera. But conversely there's always those moments you never expected to get. That's why documentaries are, ultimately, such a thrill.
Q: As you did Live Forever, why did you not put more of Bradley's favourite music in the film given that it's such a big part of his life?
JD: It just felt too obvious and, thus, less interesting. Before he won the Tour de France few people outside of cycling knew him. Those that did had this perception of him being a Mod who liked The Who, Oasis, The Smiths etc. When we first met I said I didn't want to make a film in which he was rifling through his record collection; those sorts of things. It felt too cliched. I also think that the sheer epic scale of the Tour deserved composed music.
Q: What were the unique challenges of this documentary compared to your other films such as Thriller in Manila, Once In A Lifetime, Live Forever etc?
JD: It's the same challenges really in every film. Getting the access, building the right kind of relationships with your on-screen characters, making the budget stretch to as many shoot days as possible but also having enough to license all the archive. The unique challenge of this film was covering the Tour de France. I have a weakness for red wine so it was dangerous.Q: Bradley describes himself as a "hermit at heart". Did that make him a difficult subject to film?
JD: Yes. It's what makes him a brilliant character - he's his own man, does his own thing. But on a practical filmmaking level, especially at the start, that was difficult. One of my recurring phone calls to his manager early on was - where's Bradley?
Q: What would have happened to the film if Bradley had crashed out injured early on as he did in 2011?
JD: Doesn't even bear thinking about. As I said above there are things that you miss, wish you could have put in but there are also things that are unexpected. When he told me last Christmas he wanted to win the Tour de France and Olympic Gold in London I didn't think that would actually happen. But it did. So, yeah, thank f*** he didn't fall off at any point.
Q: Was the Bradley Wiggins you got to know different from the one you thought he was?
JD: I didn't have too many preconceptions at the start. I always try not to. What I did discover is that he is a very, very funny man. And a brilliant mimic. Again something i couldn't manage to squeeze into the running time (but will be there as DVD extras).
Q: What is the next project for you John?
JD: There are a couple of things in the pipeline but, bizarrely, I might do another cycling film (and no it's not Lance Armstrong).