Formula One in the 1970s was risky, competitive and oddly glamorous, largely because of the charismatic drivers who vied for pole position in the sport – James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Posh Brit James Hunt and Austria’s driven Niki Lauda were arch-rivals, fuelling one of the most exciting periods in the history of the sport.
It was a compelling battle of the petrol heads.
As a teenager, I remember almost being able to smell the fumes and feel the testosterone levels as I watched the Grand Prix on the tiniest of TV screens. The adrenaline rush was palpable.
James Hunt was the handsome playboy driver that I had a bit of a crush on, like most women in 1976.
He was an incendiary cocktail of charming chap and wicked womaniser.
Now a new film called Rush – directed by Ron Howard – captures the spirit and competitiveness of this classic era of Formula One brilliantly.
The film is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seats as the two men battle it out on and off the race track to be world champion.
Clash of the titan egos
At the heart of this film is the rivalry and clash of personalities. Lauda is business-like and relentless whilst Hunt is unconventional and arrogant, the ‘bad boy’ of UK sport.
Peter Morgan’s entertaining script elevates the rivalry between the two men to a story which travels beyond the sporting arena.
Once again, Morgan adeptly captures the essence of the complex relationships between two protagonists in the same way he succeeded with Frost: Nixon, Damned United and The Deal.
Here it’s the love-hate relationship and macho rivalry that makes Rush engaging viewing for film fans even if they don’t love sport and Formula One.
The gladiatorial element of the sport is captured brilliantly, particularly in the climactic scene when the two drivers compete to win the World Championship in the dirtiest and riskiest weather conditions in Japan.
Although Hunt wins, it feels like Lauda is the real champion, having come back from a near fatal crash and facial disfigurement only weeks earlier.
Morgan says that he “wrote the entire script as a race”, alternating between the personal race of the two men against each other and their competitive racing on the track.
The two men’s best and worst enemy is the other. Each pushes the other to achieve and go one step further in the race to be top dog.
When he triumphs in the World Championship James Hunt tells Niki Lauda – “You make me a better driver”. Although it’s a piece of artistic license from the writer, the emotion rings true.
There’s no doubt that both men drove each other to drive harder and faster.
“Everyone needs a good enemy,” says Morgan about capturing the essence of their relationship.
Triumph of the spirit
The relationships between the drivers feel authentic in Rush and the complexity of the characters is never lost in the pacy narrative.
The dangers of motorsports in the 1970s are well-captured, rather like the Senna documentary last year – and the re-creation of the action sequences is a triumph.
Having watched the Formula One races back in the 70s, I couldn’t find fault with the period detail, whilst the cinematography adds a heightened tension and visual style to proceedings.
The action sequences capture the noise, the thrills and the spills of the sport.
The authenticity of the film also comes from the location filming at Brands Hatch, Donington Park and Cadwell Park in Britain as well as the notorious Nurburgring in Germany, the scene of Lauda’s horrific accident.
The film almost feels like a documentary in places, especially the Niki Lauda crash and the traumatic aftermath in the hospital, which feel agonisingly real.
Lauda’s comeback is emotionally-engaging and beautifully handled by the director, who avoids veering on schmaltz (sometimes evident in his films), tempered by Morgan’s clever scripting.
I really cared about the characters in this film, despite their flaws and driven personalities.
Even Hunt’s machismo and annoying sexism (he slept with 5,000 women in a short period of time) is handled adeptly. He comes across as charismatic but self-destructive, as much to be pitied as praised.
Complex and compelling
What Rush does so well is to combine a particularly masculine obsession with speed with a more complex portrait of emotions and male ‘bonding’.
Chris Hemsworth captures James Hunt completely – the look, the swagger, the posh accent and the unpredictable behaviour. He’s the charismatic, blond Hunt that I remember from countless TV interviews and shows.
Daniel Bruhl also gives a captivating performance as Lauda, initially cool and robotic, but ultimately complex and compelling.
He lends a new dimension to the racing driver that I felt that I never knew when I watching Formula One.
Morgan tells how even today, 40 years on, the real Niki Lauda cannot shake off his feelings of admiration for Hunt, long after his competitor’s early death from a heart attack fuelled by his excessive lifestyle.
The two men couldn’t live with or without each other.
Peter Morgan tells how Lauda was visibly moved by watching the film when he saw it for the first time.
Rush captures the love-hate relationship between Hunt and Lauda brilliantly on screen with a tinge of nostalgia for the days when motor racing was less corporate and certainly more dangerous.
It’s a character story with two protagonists: one Austrian, one English. One wild and dynamic, the other restrained and thoughtful.
“It’s mainly about these two men, their different styles and their different lifestyles,” says producer Andrew Eaton.
“But it also happens to have this amazing backdrop of motor racing and Formula 1, making it a character piece with action.”
This successful mix of racing action and characters plus a cracking music soundtrack means Rush fires on all cylinders. Don’t miss it!
Images are copyright and courtesy of Studio Canal, Rush Film Limited, Jaap Buitendijk and Egoli Tosell.
Rush is on release in the UK from 13 September, 2013.