The twenty-four hour road race of Le Mans has built a reputation since 1923 as one of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious, races in the world, with teams from all over the globe taking part in the hopes of lifting the trophy. The 2013 event had been overshadowed by a fatal crash, something that must have been playing on the minds of all those drivers who entered the following year, and a British privateer team leader, Simon Dolan, although determined to win this year after many tries, was all to aware of the danger that could befall a competitor in a contest that was as much about endurance as it was skill. His team was Jota Sport, and in 2014 they genuinely felt they had a chance...
The record of the world's motor racing used to take the form of a film to be watched in cinemas, yet with the rise of home video the followers were more likely to be watching such works on VHS or later, DVD, that being a lucrative market for offering footage of the sport. So Journey to Le Mans was something of a throwback to the days of Weekend of a Champion, a seventies documentary considered by those in the know as one of the great films on the subject, and indeed one which had earned itself a rerelease mere months before this arrived. The success of Formula 1 doc Senna in cinemas was surely another factor in getting director Charlotte Fantelli's efforts the green light.
This was not quite up to those standards, but by tracking the Jota team and its eventual progress through the qualifying races to the big day itself they did manage a solid narrative, especially if you did not know the result of the 2014 competition. Though if you did, you were going to be a Le Mans fan, and therefore the target audience for a film on the subject, which may have you wondering what this could tell you that you didn't know already as after all you were aware of the winner. And for those uninitiated, what was the point in seeing a film that spoke to the experts more than the laymen? The answer to that might not have been one hundred percent convincing, as what the narrative lacked was a real conflict.
Not that Fantelli would have been better off depicting a demolition derby, but with very little coverage of the other teams, so much so that they are mentioned merely in passing, the focus on Jota did feel as if it was excluding some real drama. Of course, every team wants to win, but there was no sense of a great rivalry, more a group of drivers setting about the exercise with nothing but professionalism and the uncritical compunction to win through the feats of engineering and driver ability. Don't go looking for a repeat of the Senna contests or the then-recent Ron Howard blockbuster Rush which depicted what audiences relished, the one on one push to win at all costs, and at the cost of the other man in the headline-grabbing clash of personalities.
This left us with Dolan and his men battling against the clock and the conditions more than the other cars, fair enough as that was probably a major factor in getting somewhere in the sport, but risked blandness. Certainly the footage from the races was sleekly presented, much slow motion in evidence so we could recognise the techniques, and the narration from Sir Patrick Stewart contributed immensely to the portentous nature of events as they unfolded: it was a real coup to secure his services as his voice could elevate a Scalextric game to a legendary clash. There were mishaps along the way, as Dolan crashes at one qualifier and the film rather cruelly withholds the information whether he was all right or not to generate tension, but also triumphs as an against the odds narrative develops, just the sort of sporting excitement the fans want to see. So if this was more a souvenir for an aficionado, it was by no means exclusive to them, the less enamoured could easily appreciate the well-captured action. Music by Phil Mountford (a shade too heavy on the power ballads).