Brunel was the Elon Musk or Steve Jobs of his era, and like them he was charismatic, visionary and controversial. The story is told through the eyes of Brunel’s assistant, Bennett, who joins Brunel just as Brunel’s career takes off when he is appointed chief engineer for the Great Western Railway, at the tender age of 27.
Bennett becomes inspired by what Brunel is trying to achieve as he faces fierce resistance from the northern lobby (pushing the interests of Liverpool over Bristol). However, after Bennett is caught in a derailment near Reading, he starts to question the price he and others are paying for Brunel’s “no holds barred” approach to getting things done. Eventually, Brunel forces him to leave when Bennett wants to marry, fearing it will reduce his work ethic.
A few years later however, Brunel's health starts to fail and he begs Bennett to return to help him complete his greatest project, the steamship SS Great Eastern, the building of which has turned into a nightmare. Works nears completion when there is an explosion on board and for Brunel it is the final straw, breaking his spirit.
He dies feeling that his enemies have bested him. However, five years after his death Clifton suspension bridge is opened, finished in Brunel’s honour. Bennett realises that whatever his faults, Brunel is one of those people who have truly stamped their mark on the world.