Having debuted his BAFTA-nominated short SLAP on S/W back in 2014, NFTS graduate Nick Rowland returns to the site with Group B, a tense and gripping 25-minute film which immerses its audience in the dangerous world of competitive rally driving. Starring Richard Madden (best known for his role as ‘Robb Stark’ in HBO series Game Of Thrones) and Michael Smiley, Rowland draws from personal experience to create a truly visceral and cinematic exploration of grief, survivors guilt, and what it takes to move on. Group B is much more than a tribute to the golden era of rallying, it’s a deeply human story about an individual who has to face his demons.
“You don’t need to care about cars or have knowledge of engines to connect with this story”
“You don’t need to care about cars or have knowledge of engines to connect with this story”, Rowland explains as we discuss the inspiration behind his film, and he’s right! Despite some truly impressive driving scenes, Group B isn’t really a film about racing. The adrenaline-inducing moments come from a much scarier aspect of the motorsport: waiting at the starting line. For Madden’s character, Shane Hunter, participating in another race could spell disaster for both him and his new co-driver (Smiley) if he can’t get in the right headspace, and it’s in this situation that Rowland’s filmmaking truly shines.
A film with very little dialogue, especially from the story’s protagonist, Group B manages to capture an intense inner turmoil as Shane decides to return to rallying after an accident left his previous co-driver dead. With the exchanges between characters always skirting around the issue, the film forces you to read between the lines and realize the true gravity of the situation. Driven by a potent performance by Madden, Group B is a tense rollercoaster of a film which amplifies the audience’s anxiety as you dread the thought of another accident.
For many romantics of motorsport, Group B is referred to as the golden era of rally, in which some of the fastest, most powerful, and most sophisticated rally cars were ever driven. Unfortunately, with the speed and notorious lack of crowd control in the races, some of the worst accidents recorded lead to the end of Group B in 1986 – only a few years after it began in 1982.
“I used to compete as a rally driver before I turned to filmmaking”
When it came to capturing rallying on camera, Rowland drew from his own experience so that the viewer could see and feel what his character was experiencing behind the wheel. “I used to compete as a rally driver before I turned to filmmaking”, explains Rowland. “Rally driving is a sport that I love, and I was excited at the idea of introducing people to it through the film, but the story is not really about motorsport or driving. It’s a universal story about guilt, grief, and allowing yourself to move on from tragedy and regret”.
Between intense close-ups, roaring engines, emotional flashbacks, and the perspective of the driver from various angles of in-car footage, Rowland uses everything in his cinematic toolkit to make a unique racing film. Intense and slickly produced, Group B is a downright sexy slice of cinema that will hit you in the feels when you least expect it. It’s easy to see why the filmmaker was named a Screen Daily Star of Tomorrow in 2015 and a Broadcast Hot Shot in 2017.
Group B was a Royal Television Society Award Winner in 2016 and picked up nominations for a Student Academy Award and the AFI Fest Grand Jury Prize. Since leaving the NFTS (you can read more about his career on Directors Now), Rowland has directed several TV shows and directed his debut feature Calm with Horses. The film, which premiered at TIFF and screened at the 2019 edition of the BFI London Film Festival, was picked up for distribution and is now available to buy or rent on YouTube (in America it was released under the new title The Shadow of Violence). The filmmaker is currently developing a crime drama feature that takes place within the same world of competitive rally driving as Group B – we can’t wait to see it!