Many of you will be familiar with the soon-to-be-released film Rush.
In short, it is Hollywood’s take on the epic 1976 Formula 1 season, in which James Hunt vanquished Niki Lauda.
Even before Hollywood’s intervention, it is a story that has everything: a charismatic world champion beating a less emotive, calculating Austrian, McLaren versus Ferrari, disqualifications, reinstatements, a last-round thriller and, of course, Lauda’s horrific Nürburgring crash and his subsequent recovery and return to the racing cockpit.
Fortunate enough to see the film at a preview night, I can heartily recommend it as two hours of pure entertainment. The story doesn’t stray too far from reality and, while some of the dialogue takes hamming it up to a new level and some of the action is beyond fake (a quick extra gearchange precedes every overtake), it is gripping throughout, both for the race fan and non-race fan.
But what particularly delighted me – and what is undoubtedly the true highlight of a film that could so easily have slipped in to celebrating Hunt’s heroic success at the expense of everything else – is the portrayal of Niki Lauda.
It would have been so easy to cast him as the villain of the piece, yet he emerges as the real hero of the season – and rightly so. Throughout, his character is elaborately built up, and brilliantly acted by Daniel Bruhl (who puts in a performance that is so spellbinding it only serves to highlight the shortcomings elsewhere).
There’s no airbrushing of the darker sides of Lauda’s character – the fact he bought his way into F1, that he regards racing as a business rather than sport, that he fears that falling in love and having fun will somehow detract from his ability to face up to risking his life to go as fast as possible.
Then comes the accident, and the graphic and sometimes gruesome portrayal of his injuries and recovery. At times it is eye-wateringly painful to watch, but you certainly leave in no doubt as to the determination and strength of Lauda – and a growing sense of warmth towards him. When he pulls out of the final race at Fuji, reasoning that the conditions are too wet to be safe, Hunt’s championship win becomes almost an afterthought.
Unfair on Hunt? Not really. He’s still portrayed as the hero of the hour. But all these years on, there’s no doubting that Lauda’s story is the enduringly brave one. Full marks to the film makers for taking the time to see it that way.