- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (12/11/2021)
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
(Reviews of Alida Valli: In Her Own Words; Becoming Cousteau; Arsène Wenger: Invincible; and Dettori)
Even though something approaching normality has returned, not everyone is keen on sitting in cinemas, whether they've been vaccinated or not.
Consequently, the streaming platforms are continuing to show new releases, albeit in smaller numbers, as the distributors seek to return to single ticketing after a prolonged period of all in for the price of one. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation will be staying open for business. Whatever choice you make, stay safe. Remember, Covid's not gone away yet!
ALIDA VALLI: IN HER OWN WORDS.
This year marks the centenary of the great Italian actress Alida Valli and CinemaItaliaUK marks the occasion with a screening of Mimmo Verdesca's Alida Valli: In Her Own Words. Similar in style to Stig Björkman's Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (2015), this affectionate profile makes fine use of a range of archive materials, including Valli's diaries and letters, extracts from which are read by Giovanna Mezzogiorno.
Born in Pola in Istria on 31 May 1921, Alida Valli was the daughter of Como history teacher Gino von Altenburger and his wife, Silvia. A quiet child, she enjoyed acting as it gave her a chance to express herself without having to give too much away. During a visit to Rome, she decided to enrol at the newly founded Centro Sperimentale and we see a slow-motion clip from her audition film. Mourning the loss of her father, she made her first screen appearance with a bit part in Enrico Guazzoni's The Two Sergeants (1936).
Alida left film school, however, because it was felt she lacked the discipline to become an actress. But tutor Francesco Pasinetti had a soft spot for her and urged her to return to Rome when the Cinecittà studios opened. While visiting Pasinetti, Mario Bonnard cast her in The Ferocious Saladin (1937) and changed her name to Alida Valli, with her new surname coming at random from the telephone directory.
Critics spotted the new talent and Valli's profile was raised by pictures like Giuseppe Amato's A Night in May (1938) and Max Neufeld's A Thousand Lira a Month (1939). She made a handful of films with Neufeld, who paired her with Amideo Nazarri. In Carmine Gallone's Manon Lescaut (1939), she took the title role opposite Vittorio De Sica and grandson Pierpaolo De Mejo peruses some of the fan letters she received from young men fighting with Benito Mussolini's forces in Africa.
Costume designer Piero Tosi recalls her being a popular pin-up, as she had a freshness that was unique in Italian cinema during its so-called `White Telephone' phase. Yet, Valli claimed she was merely photogenic and would cheerfully have given it all up for pilot Carlo Cugnasca and Livia Silvi, her co-star in Neufeld's Absence Without Leave (1939), remembers how smitten she was. He invited her to his base in Sweden and she was so alarmed by the number of soldiers when she flew into Berlin that she realised how dangerous the situation was becoming.
We see newsreel footage of Valli visiting wounded men in hospital and she hoped that films like Mario Soldati's Old-Fashioned World (1941) would provide comfort. Soldati enthuses in an old clip about her passion, while Valli thanks him for showing her there was more to cinema than popular entertainments, as she won a special Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival for her performance. Mariù Pascoli, who played Valli's daughter, recalls how close they became and suggests that playing a mother reflected a yearning for normality away from fame.
While she was filming Mario Mattoli's Light in the Darkness and Schoolgirl Diary (both 1941), however, Valli was worried about Cugnasca, who had been posted to North Africa. Tatiana Farnese, her co-star in the latter, recalls how brave she was using work as a distraction. But, during a New Year stay in Como, she discovered that Cugnasca had been killed in action over Tobruk eight months earlier. He remained the love of her life and the pain is still evident in one of her final interviews.
Throwing herself into work, Valli made seven films in two years, including Mattoli's Nothing New Tonight (1942). She was content to touch the hearts of audiences whose suffering she shared. But director Mario Camerini warned that she was on a list of names to be transferred to the Republic of Salò and she went into hiding with actress Luciana D'Avack. Here, she met jazz pianist Oscar De Mejo, who suggested she pose for a painting by his cousin, Leonor Fini.
We see the bold 1944 canvas with a bare-breasted Valli gazing into the distance, as words from the diaries explain how she fell for a man from Trieste, who was 10 years her senior. He composed scores for Vittorio De Sica and Valli was sure he would be a fine husband. Shortly afterwards, Rome was liberated on 4 June and they joined the cheering crowds, even though Valli was expecting son Carlo, who was born in January 1945. She continued to work, however, winning an award for her lead in Soldati's Eugenia Grandet (1946).
But it would be her last in Italy for a while, as producer David O. Selznick offered Valli a seven-year contract that required her to prove that not only had she not been Il Duce's mistress, but that she had not even been a member of the Fascist Party. Whisked to the set of Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947), Valli was coached to speak her lines phonetically by Florence Cunningham. Director Maurizio Ponzi claims that Valli was cast after Selznick failed to lure Greta Garbo out of retirement. But he doesn't see how the Swede could have played such a sphinx-like character any better.
In a letter to her mother, Valli describes the thrill of the premiere, a fun stay with the Hitchcocks and Ingrid Bergman's curiosity about Roberto Rossellini. Stills from Irving Pichel's The Miracle of the Bells (1949) and Robert Stevenson's Walk Softly, Stranger (1950) are intercut with home movies of her playing with Carlo and settling into the Tinseltown lifestyle. But the film that made her an international star was made back in Europe.
Produced by Selznick, Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) caused Valli to question whether she could act in English. But Vanessa Redgrave reveals how the final scene in the avenue of trees left a lasting impression. While pregnant with second son Lorenzo, Valli made Ted Tetzlaff's The White Tower (1949) and secured Selznick's permission to return to Europe to make Yves Allégret's Miracles Only Happen Once and Gianni Franciolini's Last Meeting (both 1951).
As son Larry De Mejo confides, however, his mother was a bit of a rebel, who didn't like the regimented routine in Hollywood. So, when Selznick replaced her in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Five Fingers (1952) with Danielle Darrieux, she paid the $150,000 penalty clause and returned home to make pictures like the portmanteau, We, the Women (1953). She also starred with Farley Granger in Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) and Verdesca includes a clip from the rarely seen English-language version, The Wanton Contessa.
Having also worked with Visconti (on The Damned, 1969), Charlotte Rampling comments on Valli's performance, even though she admits to not being all that familiar with her other work. Bernardo Bertolucci claims she bared her soul on the screen, but Tosi (who worked on the costumes) suggests that her torment came from the dual effects of her break-up with De Mejo and the ramifications of the murder of Wilma Montesi.
Her body was found on the beach at Torvajanica near Ostia in April 1953 and rumours circulated that she had been involved in drug-fuelled orgies in Rome. Ugo Montagna was put on trial with Piero Piccioni, the film composer who was not only the son of the deputy prime minister, but also Valli's lover. She provided an alibi that Piccioni was with her at Carlo Ponti's villa in Amalfi, but she was hounded by the press and the scandal so tainted her reputation that she didn't make another film until Piccioni was acquitted.
Consolation came from Giancarlo Zagni, an assistant director on Senso who helped her find her feet in the theatre. She continued to show a new maturity in Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido (1957). Director Margarethe von Trotta affirms Valli's ability to transform herself in inhabiting roles. She cites Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960) as an example. But the Montesi case made it difficult to find projects as worthwhile as Gillo Pontecorvo's The WideBlue Road, René Clément's This Angry Age (both 1957) and Roger Vadim's The Night Heaven Fell (1958).
Shortly after making Raymond Leopold Bruckberger and Philippe Agostini's Dialogue With the Carmelites, she ventured into television for the first time with Medea's Sons (both 1959). She also went on stage Stateside with Burgess Meredith in Luigi Pirandello's Henry IV. Valli also found a new audience in France, where she followed Jacques Deray's Le Gigolo (1960) with Henri Colpi's The Long Absence (1961), which won the Palme d'or at Cannes.
While commenting on her distinctive beauty, Thierry Frémaux suggests that Valli was championed by continental critics because she had rejected Hollywood, but Rampling and director Marco Tullio Giordano reckon her appeal lay in a sense of mystery that made her essential to watch. She also took chances, heading to Latin America to make Argentinian Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's Homage At Siesa Time (1963) and Mexican Ismael Rodríguez's The Paper Man (1963), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.
Valli was also prepared to wait for the right roles, with Pier Paolo Pasolini's Oedipus Rex (1967) being her last film of the decade. Now identified with the new wave, she starred in Bertolucci's The Spider's Stratagem (1970) and took key roles in 1900 (1976) and La Luna (1979). He delights in having worked with such an icon and Valli was grateful to him for helping her shed her former screen image and guide her back to the theatre to discover talents like Antonio Calenda, who comments on her power coming from moments of doubt. She would also work on stage in France with Patrice Chéreau and one of her last contacts with her mother was in relation to a glowing review.
Around this period, Valli also developed a crush on Robert Redford and booked into the hotel where he was shooting Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men (1976) so she could bump into him. But she swore off men when Zagni cheated on her and she devoted herself to her craft. Ponzi remembers her keeping to herself while filming The House of Raoul, while Rampling reflects on the power Valli brought to her single scene in Patrice Chéreau's feature bow, Flesh of the Orchid (both 1975). She admires the way in which her co-star navigated her way through an unforgiving business and retained her integrity and her magnestism.
As time passed, Valli began to favour working with younger directors to help them on to the ladder. Following Valerio Zurlini's The Professor (1972), she teamed twice with Dario Argento on Suspiria (1976) and The Inferno (1980). He believes she enjoyed playing wicked characters and notes the intensity and intelligence she brought to each scene. Roberto Benigni commends her courage in playing his mother (Valentina Cortese had refused) in Giuseppe Bertolucci's Berlinguer, I Love You (1977), which was full of colourful Tuscan crudity. She threw herself into the role and mucked in with the crew when a cat needed for a scene went missing.
Benigni avers that Valli acted to fill a need for affection, but Bernardo Bertolucci muses on the generosity she showed towards his debutant brother and the way in which she avoided any diva antics and simply acted her age. Giordana concurs in discussing her performance in The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1981), for which she won the Donatello Award for Best Actress. He wishes they had made more films together, as she was always focussed on the present and refused to rest on her reputation.
Over a still from Geneviève Lefebvre's Manuela's Loves (1987), we see some of Valli's stage triumphs and her fondness for working with actor son Carlo. Pierpaolo and mother Maria Laura De Mejo rejoice in her kindness, while Larry regrets that his four children saw little of their grandmother because he was based in the United States.
Having received a special Donatello Award, Valli made Margarethe von Trotta's The Long Silence (1993) about the Mafia murder of a crusading judge. Co-star Carla Gravin (who played her daughter) remembers how modern her acting style was, while Vanessa Redgrave has nothing but fond memories of making John Irvin's A Month By the Lake (1995), during the making of which Valli celebrated her 73rd birthday on the banks of Lake Como.
Festival director Felice Laudadio lobbied for Valli to receive a Lifetime Golden Lion at Venice and her sons accompanied her after Gérard Depardieu had caught her after she had fainted during a photo session. She suffered from problems with her sight in later years and bowed out of cinema with Pepe Danquart's Angel of Death (2002) after making over 100 films.
Larry confides that she found ageing annoying, but took solace from religion. She never returned to Pula (which belonged to Yugoslavia before becoming part of Croatia), as the loss of her father still weighed heavily, as did the `Foibe massacre' of the Italian population by Yugoslavian Partisans between 1943-45. But she remained devoted to her family and enjoyed having become something of a national treasure. Valli died on 22 April 2006, shortly before her 85th birthday.
As Pierpaolo discovered, she had kept hundreds of letters, as well as her journals and he and Verdesca make excellent use of them in this revealing and often moving memoir. She may well have been unlucky in love, but cinema served her admirably and continues to do so. British audiences will lament that so many of the films mentioned are unavailable in a country that has always been dismayingly insular when it comes to non-English films. But Verdesca provides plenty of tantalising moments that deftly celebrate Valli's legacy, but also show how she rose to the challenge of passing from ingénue to grande dame.
Some interviewees make more pertinent contributions than others, but the readiness of so many familiar names to eulogise Valli stands as a testament to her significance. What is noticeable, however, is that there isn't a single mention of those `rival' actresses who were perhaps better known abroad, when it might have been instructive to know where Valli stood with both audiences and critics in the commercial and artistic pecking order. Nevertheless, this is a fitting tribute to a self-effacing star who always remained true to herself.
The life of Jacques-Yves Cousteau has been well chronicled, not least by himself. He started recording his diving activities at the outset and began releasing short films with Par dix-huit métres de fond in 1943. Having won both the Palme d'or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Documentary with The Silent World (1956), Cousteau followed World Without Sun (1964) with the long-running TV series that enchanted and educated a generation, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau (1966-76).
In 2016, Lambert Wilson played the intrepid explorer, inventor, scientist, film-maker and conservationist in Jérôme Salle's frank biopic, The Odyssey. Now, documentarist Liz Garbus runs her practiced eye over hours of archive material to show how an adventurer became an advocate in Becoming Cousteau.
Forced to abandon his hopes of becoming a naval pilot after suffering serious injuries in a car crash in the small hours of the morning, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was introduced to diving as a form of therapy by Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas. The `Three Musketeers of the Sea' soon attracted attention on the Riviera when Cousteau and Emile Gagnan began experimenting with an Aqua-Lung whose air supply was controlled by a demand regulator. Gagnan's boss was Cousteau's father-in-law, Henri Melchior, and he promised wife Simone a life at sea so that she could fulfil the dreams inspired by her admiral grandfathers.
Following the tragic death of Maurice Fargues in a depth test (Garbus includes harrowing footage of attempts to revive him on the deck of the sloop `Élie Monnier'), Tailliez withdrew in order to focus on conservation work. But Cousteau was ready to explore the world aboard `Calypso', a converted minesweeper crewed by a committed band of misfits, as well as the captain's own sons, Jean-Michel and Philippe. The expense of his expeditions prompted him to accept a commission to explore for oil off the coast of Abu Dhabi and he used his new affluence to fund a feature film, having been obsessed with underwater cinematography since seeing Stuart Paton's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) as a boy.
Deeply resenting the notion that The Silent World (which he co-directed with Louis Malle) was a documentary (he preferred the term `true-life adventure'), Cousteau dreamt of becoming the John Ford of the sea. He recalls Pablo Picasso being fascinated by the colours of the deep during the Cannes premiere and reveals that the painter was polishing the piece of black corral he had given him when he died.
In 1962, Cousteau made The House At the Bottom of the Sea to show how `oceanauts' Albert Falco and Claude Wesley coped with living on the sea bed in a Conshelf habitat called Diogenes. Yet, in their obsession with their research, Jacques and Simone neglected their children, who were packed off to boarding school. Jean-Michel notes that his mother spent more time aboard `Calypso' than anyone else and Cousteau avers in an audio clip that he would never allow another woman to join the crew.
Anxious to avoid becoming dependent on oil companies, Cousteau teamed up with American producer David L. Wolper to make The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Few expected this to become a hit show, but it introduced a mass audience to an unseen world. In producing 36 films, however, Cousteau began to notice changes in the aquatic environment and he realised that he had to alert the world to what was happening.
From the early 1970s, Cousteau focussed less on pretty fish than humanity's impact on the eco systems of the sea. In Time Bomb At Fifty Fathoms (1978), for example, he highlighted the threat posed by 900 barrels of toxin on a ship that sank off the coast of Italy. Moreover, he told chat show host Dick Cavett that he now felt deeply ashamed of the scene of his crew bludgeoning sharks in The Silent World. Indeed, he sought through the Cousteau Society to teach people about the value of all aquatic creatures and how they all needed to be saved.
He demonstrated the fragility of the polar ice caps in Voyage to the End of the World (1976), his third feature and the last he made with his son, Philippe, who was killed in a flying boat crash in Portugal in 1979. Abandoning his career as an architect, Jean-Michel joined his father's crew. But the problems increased when ABC dropped the TV series because executives felt that Cousteau had started to hector the audience. In 1990, `Calypso' lost its `Shepherdess' when Simone died from cancer and eyebrows were raised when Cousteau married diver Francine Triplet, who was three decades his junior and his longtime lover and mother of his two youngest children.
However, the campaign continued and he successfully brokered a moratorium on the development of Antarctica. The 82 year-old Cousteau also attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. He was to die five years later, but the closing caption urges support for the Cousteau Society's ongoing mission.
Necessarily covering the same territory as The Odyssey, but cutting Cousteau considerably more slack, Garbus has produced a portrait for our times. It's no surprise to see its release coinciding with the COP26 conference in Glasgow. But, the problem remains, that those in power and their allies in the petrochemical sphere have managed to ignore the likes of Cousteau and David Attenborough and not enough of us have heeded their warnings with sufficient alacrity and commitment.
With Vincent Cassel reading from Cousteau's journals, this feels like a message from beyond the gave - the kind Dives wanted in the New Testament parable - and it's all the more potent because it has been delivered by a penitent who recognised the damage he had helped cause by exploring for fossil fuels after the Second World War. One has to raise an eyebrow at ABC, of course, for its decision to jettison a show that had won hearts and minds when it ceased to be as cosy as The Wonderful World of Disney (not that this series entirely pulled its punches when it came to presenting the Natural World as it is). But many harsh lessons have been learned since then and it's a shame that Cousteau's footage of the depleted ocean floors hasn't been available before to drive home the message of the speed with which the climate crisis is accelerating.
Editor Pax Wasserman selects the clips with care, as he does with co-scribe Mark Monroe in quoting from Cousteau's writings. But Garbus has learned over a 30-year career how to tell a story with efficiency and impact and Cousteau is fortunate in having a cine-biographer who is able to see more than the red woollen beanie, the oil connection and the domestic shortcomings to reveal a man who transformed diving, changed the study of our oceans and realised that a great crime was being committed against the planet in the name of civilisation.
ARSÈNE WENGER: INVINCIBLE.
Given the nature of the victory and the wait they had been forced to endure for a title, one suspects many Arsenal fans will consider stealing the title from Liverpool in injury time at Anfield to be the most momentous event in the club's recent history. David Evans's adaptation of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch (1997) and Dave Stewart's documentary, 89 (2017), would seem to reinforce that view. But Gabriel Clarke and Christian Jeanpierre put the case for two doubles and an unbeaten season in Arsène Wenger: Invincible.
When he first arrived at Highbury in October 1996, Arsène Wenger was considered a nobody. Striker Ian Wright was not alone in boorishly responding `Who?', when asked about the man vice-chairman David Dein had preferred to Johan Cryuff to succeed Bruce Rioch. Rather disappointingly, the co-directors spend little time on Wenger's background. We see him strolling around the Alsatian village of Duttlenheim and reminiscing about his mother's bistro and going to mass. But little is said about his playing days at Mutzig, Mulhouse, ASPV Strasbourg or RC Strasbourg. A stint at a language school in Cambridge is also overlooked, as we breeze through Wenger's coaching fortunes at Cannes, Nancy and AS Monaco, where he managed England internationals Glenn Hoddle and Mark Hateley.
Despite winning the title in his first season in the Principality, Wenger didn't exactly take Ligue 1 by storm and he left for Japan in disgust following the Marseille match-fixing scandal. Arriving at Nagoya Grampus Eight the season after Gary Lineker had retired, Wenger initially struggled to impose himself on the players. But he won two knockout trophies before accepting Dein's offer to revitalise a squad that had become entrenched in the `1-0 to the Arsenal' mentality that had been cultivated by George Graham.
Yet, while he disapproved of its drinking culture, `Le Professeur' liked the team's English spirit and felt only Patrick Vieira was necessary to improve it. Wright (who dubbed his manager `Inspector Clouseau'), Martin Keown and Lee Dixon mumble about being set in their ways, as their French teammate explains about the change of intensity that Wenger introduced to training, as well as the benefits that accrued from dietary changes and the use of vitamin supplements. However, his reign was over almost as soon as it had begun when rumours began circulating about Wenger's private life. These died down, but the season ended in disappointment when Newcastle United pipped the Gunners to a Champions League spot on goal difference.
With Emmanuel Petit, Nicholas Anelka and Marc Overmars now on the strength, Arsenal bounced back from a mid-season slump to take Manchester United's crown with a nine-game winning streak after the Dutchman scored the winner in a showdown at Old Trafford. To cap off the season, Wenger became the first overseas manager to win the double, when Newcastle were easily beaten 2-0 at Wembley in the FA Cup Final.
After drawing a blank, Wenger refreshed his forward line by bringing in Thierry Henry from Juventus to partner Dennis Bergkamp. However, success didn't come immediately, as Arsenal lost in the UEFA and FA Cup Finals to Galatasaray (2000) and Liverpool (2001) respectively. Opting not to discuss the dismantling of a famous back four, the film rushes through the 2002 double success to Wenger's claim that he had built a team that could go through an entire season unbeaten. He was proved wrong in the year he had to settle for an FA Cup triumph over Southampton. But the Invincibles became the first team since Preston North End in 1889 to avoid defeat - although it required Ruud van Nistelrooy to hit the bar from the penalty spot during an infamously stormy encounter to keep the run going.
Ironically, it was United who ended the sequence at 49 games and Sir Alex Ferguson is uncharacteristically magnanimous in lauding Wenger's achievement. But, while we hear about Henry becoming a scoring legend, nothing is said about the way in Wenger identified players or moulded them to suit his style of play. Relatively little is said about the state of the club's finances at a time when Roman Abramovich was bankrolling Chelsea to unprecedented success.
Wenger recalls his sadness at leaving Highbury in 2006, but offers little about how financing the Emirates impacted upon the team. He also avoids discussing how his coaching methods changed and how he found the challenge of competing against younger managers with new ideas. Ferguson makes a joke about `dinosaurs', but the film devote too little time to the `fourth is as good as a trophy' era that started the `Wenger Out!' groundswell that continued to build through several barren seasons.
No players from this period are named, let alone interviewed. Indeed, it's notable that such big names as Tony Adams, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and David Seamen are absent from the roster, while there is no contribution from either the journalistic fraternity or the controlling Kroenke camp. Instead, Wenger gets to protect his legacy while guarding his private life.
This is fine, but the result is that those viewers who have followed football for the last 25 years will learn little they didn't already know about the man or his teams. It's nice to see Wenger revisiting old haunts and enjoying the countryside near his Totteridge home. The subtle changes in the expression around his eyes as he watches past triumphs playing on a giant screen is also intriguing. But where are the pressing questions about why he stayed in situ for so long and why he opted not to go to Old Trafford or take on the English or French national jobs?
The line between dignity and inscrutability doesn't shift, though. Consequently, while this should provide a pleasant wallow for Gooners who have found the post-Wenger years difficult to swallow, it's not a patch on Clarke's markedly more intimate Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager (2018), which he co-directed with Torquil Jones.
When it comes to current affairs topics, director Anthony Wonke has an enviable track record. In addition to winning Emmys for The Tower: A Tale of Two Cities (2007) and Syria: Children on the Frontline (2014), he also received a BAFTA for his harrowing account of the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, Fire in the Night (2013).
His form is patchier when it comes to sporting profiles, however, as not even the solid insights imparted in Gymnast (2011) can atone for the hagiographical fawning on display in Ronaldo (2015). He seems on firmer ground when it comes to jockeys, however, as he follows an account of jump legend Tony McCoy's final season, Being AP (2015), with Dettori, which charts the ups and downs of flat icon, Frankie Dettori.
Winding back from a failed 2020 bid to win a third Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe aboard Enable, the story opens with an overview of the career of Sardinian jockey Gianfranco Dettori, who raced occasionally in Britain while amassing 13 champion titles in his homeland. Although he separated from circus performer wife Iris Maria after the birth of daughter Alessandra and son Lanfranco, Gianfranco inspired the latter's love of horses by buying him a Palomino pony.
At the age of 13, Frankie was dispatched to Britain to work at the Newmarket stables of trainer Luca Cumani. Freed from the constant criticism of his father, Dettori was subjected to bullying and considered quitting. But Cumani and head jockey Ray Cochrane saw a spark that led to the Milanese becoming the first teenager to ride 100 winners in a season since Lester Piggott.
Despite rising rapidly through the apprentice ranks, Dettori got itchy feet and spent a frustrating period in Hong Kong, where, in 1993, he was cautioned for being in possession of a small amount of cocaine. News of the incident filtered back to Blighty and Dettori's career appeared over before it had really started when he was blackballed by the leading trainers and owners.
Fortunately, John Gosden took a punt, as did Catherine Allen, the daughter of a Cambridge academic who had come to the stable to ride out during the summer holidays. She provided stability, while Gianfranco (who was now married to Christine) re-entered his son's life to help him lose weight during a training camp in Morocco. Having ridden during the all-weather season, Dettori set his sights on becoming champion jockey and his single-minded approach led to a rift with his father.
Gianfranco kept a keen eye on Frankie's progress, however, as he moved to the Godolphin stable of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai in 1994. He remains particularly proud of the 28 September 1996, when Dettori won all seven races on the card at Ascot. Even a quarter of a century later, he recalls each win with a sense of incredulity. He is even more emotional on remembering the events of 1 June 2000, when Ray Cochrane pulled him out of the Piper Seneca plane that crashed near Newmarket en route to Goodwood. Pilot Patrick Mackey lost his life and Dettori and Cochrane raise a lockdown glass to mark the 20th anniversary of his death.
Now a family man and reconciled with Gianfranco, Dettori kept racking up the Classic wins. On 2 June 2007, he finally added the Epsom Derby on Authorized. But disaster always seemed to be waiting in the wings. In 2012, a new trainer at Godolphin began pushing French jockey Mickaël Barzalona for the big rides and Dettori's disquiet led to him losing retainer status for the 2013 season. By this time, however, he was serving a six-month ban after failing a drugs test in France and, needing to pay the bills, he had signed up to Celebrity Big Brother.
With few rides being offered to manager Peter Burrell, Dettori went on a 51-race losing streak and he was nettled when Catherine urged him to put up a fight and show her how good he was. Salvation came with a five-year stay at Sheikh Joaan Al Thani's Al Shaqab Racing. But he jumped ship when a vacancy arose at the Gosden stable and Dettori was not only back in the race, but he also won the 2015 Derby on Golden Horn.
He still gets telephone lectures from Gianfranco after he loses. But Dettori is in a good place, as he got to spend time with Alessandra, who had drifted away from the family. Moreover, he is excited by his daughter Ella's decision to follow in his footsteps and he has high hopes for her future - but vows to handle things very differently from his own father.
Granted access to Dettori during the pandemic, Wonke has editors Paul Monaghan and Liam Hendrix Heath break up the chronicle with home life snippets that convey the jockey's restless personality and the way in which he interacts with his wife and children. Given how engaging he is in the interview segments, this reinforces the impression that many will have formed when Dettori was a team captain opposite the equally affable Ally McCoist on A Question of Sport.
Honest about his mistakes and the darker days that have punctuated his glittering career, Dettori is also refreshingly grateful to those have helped him. Yet, he still seems confused by his father's need to assert himself in living vicariously through his success. It's very much to Wonke's credit that he devotes so much time to the two men at home, as we get to see how wives Catherine and Christine deal with them. Indeed, they almost deserve a documentary of their own.