There are two well-known facts about Max Mosley: his parentage and his sexual proclivities. Oswald Mosley (British fascist agitator) married Diana Mitford (celeb aristo) in 1936 in Germany with Hitler as a wedding guest. “Hitler and my father never got on,” confides Max, seen as a trim old man in an easy chair. In 2008 Max Mosley was outed in the News of the World for his alleged part in a Nazi-themed orgy. No one can accuse Max of being a dull boy.
In the 1960s Mosley became involved in the heady, glamorous world of motor racing, initially as a driver. Appalled at the avoidable dangers of the sport he went on to work tirelessly on safety initiatives both on the track and for average road cars, can there be anything more tedious than car safety and the life and death of test crash dummies? Well, the internecine warfare between the various governing bodies and larger-than-life personalities of Formula 1 come close.
Looking like Warren Beatty’s more handsome brother, Mosley was a lawyer, a family man, a former president of F1, owner of a winning racing car stable, and an activist for safer cars (notably in modern India where there are 400 fatalities a day).
In the ’80s European car manufacturers first baulked at his safety campaign until firms like Volvo and Renault made them a major marketing plank. Then in 2008 the scummy, now defunct Sunday tabloid News of the World ran pictures of Mr M being spanked, with only a graphic of a chequered flag protecting his modesty. Max’s insouciant response to the bare cheek of it: “They called it an orgy, I called it a party.” He refused demands to resign from motorsport even when his long-time business partner Bernie Ecclestone did not stand by him.
Expected to slink away and accept a change in F1 top brass, he stood his ground taking NotW to court, arguing that its revelations were not in the public interest and that what he did in private was no one else’s business. It has been long suspected that the exposé was orchestrated by his enemies on the Grand Prix circuit. Conciliation was never a Mosley strong suit. He once likened the Daily Mail editor to the Taliban. Mosley won in court and went on to challenge the British press on its systemic approach to lawbreaking. He was a star witness at the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking in 2011. Max is a lesson on how to lose friends and alienate people.
The documentary only partly does justice to the complex life of Mosely. How more informative captions or a narrator might have improved it. Mosley was a willing subject in the film (he died early in 2021 aged 81). And references to connections to a notorious pamphlet to which he put his name are too fleeting. A tantalising mention of allegations that the wife of a member of MI5 might have leaked the orgy story for money are not explored.
Was Max Mosley just another blond, rich, entitled shagger, exposed by a brave press or a traduced pioneering safety campaigner who helped save numberless lives? It’s complicated. You decide.
Available in cinemas from Fri 9 Jul 2021 and On-demand from Mon 19 Jul 2021