The story, told in flashback, of two young British sprinters competing for fame in the 1924 Olympics. Eric, a devout Scottish missionary runs because he knows it must please God. Harold, the son of a newly rich Jew runs to prove his place in Cambridge society. In a warmup 100 meter race, Eric defeats Harold, who hires a pro trainer to prepare him. Eric, whose qualifying heat is scheduled for a Sunday, refuses to run despite pressure from the Olympic committee. A compromise is reached when a nobleman allows Eric to compete in his 400 meter slot. Eric and Harold win their respective races and go on to achieve fame as missionary and businessman/athletic advocate, respectively. Written by
On the sign outside the Paris church where Eric Liddell delivers his sermon, screenplay author Colin Welland's name is listed above as giving the preceding service. See more »
In the 1920s, the Canadian flag was either the Union Jack or the Canadian Red Ensign. The red maple leaf flag was not introduced until 1965. See more »
Lord Andrew Lindsay:
Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honour the legend. Now there are just two of us - young Aubrey Montague and myself - who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.
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I enjoy sports films, especially when they are used to exemplify greater human truths. In that regard `Chariots of Fire' is one of my favorite sports films. What differentiates this film is that it is really a human story about sports rather than a pure sports story. Based on a true story, it centers on two gifted athletes and their quest to run in the 1924 Olympics. The first is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a haughty sprinter with an obsession for winning. Abrahams, who is Jewish, is a man with something to prove, mostly to himself. His rival is Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), the first man to ever beat him in a sprint. Liddell is a devout Christian and runs for the glory of God.
There is an exquisite interplay of subtle themes in this film underlying the obvious sports tale. There is the contrast of motives. Abraham runs to validate his feeling of personal power, and his preoccupation with winning is actually motivated by his fear of losing. His quest is torturous, and ultimately his victory empty, more of a relief than a triumph. Liddell runs out of a desire to repay God for the physical gifts he has been given. He is at peace with himself, but at odds with all those who want to control him. Their rivalry represents a battle between the forces of the physical and spiritual. Other themes pervade the film. We have undercurrents of bigotry against the Jewish runner, a man of whom Cambridge was begrudgingly proud while berating him behind his back. We have sinister political attempts at manipulation in the face of Liddell's staunch integrity in adhering to his principles. Together, these forces combine to produce a film rich in drama and meaning.
The film has been criticized for its inaccuracies. Some say Abraham did not suffer from anti-Semitic bigotry and that he was wildly popular at Cambridge. This does not necessarily mean he didn't feel inferior. No one can know what childhood experiences might have affected his psyche. Jackson Scholz was quoted as saying he never gave Liddell a note of encouragement on the track. I have to agree that this was a bit of Hollywood drivel that didn't need to be there. Additionally, Liddell knew weeks before that the heats would be on a Sunday, not just before the race as shown, and he was always scheduled to run the 400-meter race. The meeting of political bigwigs that allowed him to switch from the 100 to the 400 was pure fabrication to emphasize his resistance to compromising his beliefs about running on the Sabbath. However, these liberties can be forgiven because they enriched the story and did not change history in major ways.
The direction by Hugh Hudson is powerful. Hudson captures the feeling and excitement of track and field competition, as well as giving us numerous beautifully photographed scenes and a wonderful period rendering. Though nominated for an Oscar, Hudson was unable to capitalize on the success of this film, and he has directed very few, mostly minor films since. The music by Vangelis is also wonderful, and it won the Best Music Oscar.
Ben Cross is fantastic as Abrahams. He brings great intensity to Abrahams' single-minded obsession for winning. Cross hasn't done much film work since, but has had a long and distinguished career in TV. Ian Charleson is also excellent as Liddell, but his career went the same route as Cross'.
This minor film was the sleeper of 1981, nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning four, including Best Picture. I rated it a 10/10. It combines the best elements of human drama and sport to create a potent and engrossing film.
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