Le Mans ’66 (12A)****

Dir: James Mangold

Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe

Runtime: 152 mins

The thing about the great sports movies, be they fiction or documentary, is that you really shouldn’t need to be a fan of the subject matter in order to fully enjoy them.

True, being a follower of motor sport may give you a slightly elevated level of insight into the goings on in this cracking drama, but the majority of the audience who would be bored stiff watching cars go round and round all day are just as likely to be riveted as the aficionados.

Bearing an unfortunate name change from its much more evocative US title of Ford v Ferrari, Le Mans ’66 is the tale of how the Ford Motor Company, under the leadership of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) took on the might of the Italian racing industry, and Enzo Ferrari himself, to challenge for one of the sport’s greatest prizes, the 24-hour endurance race in Le Mans.

But much more than that, it’s the story of the two men who made that possible for the struggling Detroit giants – racer turned designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Bale). When we meet them, Shelby has been forced to retire from racing and is approached by Ford to help modernise their staid line-up for the newly affluent youngsters of the 1960s, with the hot-headed Miles his choice of driver to test his designs.

Their wonderfully observed relationship is front and centre, that of two driven and single-minded purists taking on the suits and the company men at Ford with their passion and their knowledge and their desire to take the machines and themselves right to the very edge of their abilities in the quest for racing perfection.

In a tight duel for star performer, Bale edges it with his portrayal of the difficult but hugely likeable Miles, but Damon also gets several chances to shine as he butts heads with the Ford brass. When we do get to the actual racing, it’s every bit as electrifying as the boardroom conversations - kinetic and immersive, with crashes and corners taken at great speed. So whether you’re in it for the fast cars or the flavourful characters, Le Mans ‘66 is a winner.