It's the post-World War I era. Britons Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both naturally gifted fast sprinters, but approach running and how it fits into their respective lives differently. The son of a Lithuanian Jew, Harold, who lives a somewhat privileged life as a student at Cambridge, uses being the fastest to overcome what he sees as the obstacles he faces in life as a Jew despite that privilege. In his words to paraphrase an old adage, he is often invited to the trough, but isn't allowed to drink. His running prowess does earn him the respect of his classmates, especially his running teammates, and to some extent the school administration, if only he maintains what they consider proper gentlemanly decorum, which isn't always the case in their minds. Born in China, the son of Christian missionaries, Eric, a Scot, is a devout member of the Church of Scotland who eventually wants to return to that missionary work. He sees running as a win-win in that the notoriety of being fast ...Written by
Ian Charleson wrote Eric Liddell's inspiring speech to the post-race workingmen's crowd. Charleson, who had been studying the Bible in preparation for the role, told director Hugh Hudson that he didn't feel the scripted sanctimonious and portentous speech was either authentic or inspiring. Charleson was uncomfortable with performing the words as scripted. It was decided that Charleson should write words that he was comfortable speaking, and thus came the most inspiring speech of the movie. See more »
In the 1924 the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was not yet using the set and costume designs seen in this film. These designs were executed by Charles Ricketts for the 1926 production of "The Mikado" at the Savoy Theatre. 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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There is at least one slightly different version of the movie, issued in Europe on homevideo. The beginning is different - shorter - and introduces Harold Abrahams while playing cricket with his colleagues. The scene in the train station, where Monty meets Harold is absent, as well as the loading of the baggage in the taxi they share. We simply see Monty writing a letter to his parents, mentioning that "Harold is as intense as ever" (cut to the cricket scene, maybe 30 seconds long), and then continues with "I remember our first day... we shared a taxi together" (cut to the two students unloading their stuff from the car). This alternate version also have slightly different end credits, and does not mention Harold marrying Sybil. The differences are minor (the U.S. version provides a more shocking memento of WWI, when it shows crippled baggage handlers in the station); one of the reasons the cricket scene was dropped in favour of the station one was due to the distributor's worry that the American market would not understand it. See more »
The strength of this movie is the study in character contrast and development, with the added attractions of a historical setting and the soaring, ethereal musical score of Evangelos Papathanassiou.
The film is anchored in the character study of the introspective, brooding, and complex persona of Harold Abrahams, wonderfully portrayed by Ben Cross. Here is a man with all of the outward trappings of success: academic achievement, unexcelled athletic ability, wildly popular with his peers, yet tortured by an inbred inferiority complex and driven to lash out at the world in response. In the end, he conquers his inner demons through hard work, sacrifice, understanding of his fellow man, and the love of a good woman, to whom he opens his heart. I found myself thinking that Harold Abrahams is the kind of man I would want as my best friend, yet at the same time would find hard to become close with and relate to.
Ian Charleston's character (Eric Liddell) is a bit more one-dimensional. He is the archetypical Good Man, faithful to his family, his country, his friends, and his God. And in the end he triumphs through sheer force of will and by tapping that reservoir of inner strength that sustains him. As the crusty coach Sam Mussambini says, "He's a gut runner. Digs deep...".
It's a bit of a pity that the movie, long though it is, could not have delved more deeply into the other characters' background. Lord Andrew Lindsey is particularly appealing as Harold's and Eric's faithful friend who gives up his spot in his specialty race (the 400 m) to allow Eric a chance at the gold. Sybil Gordon is wonderful as Harold's love interest who tries to draw him out of his lonely world of bitterness and resentment and self-hatred ("You ran like a God. I was proud of you...", even after Harold loses a race for the first time in his life to a more determined Eric). Even some of the American competitors, who are only peripherally portrayed in the concluding segments, lend some color. Jackson Scholtz' reaching out to Eric Liddell gives one the sense that he knows the greatness of spirit that quietly resides in this unassuming Scotsman.
Its a wonderful story wonderfully told, and when its over you find yourself longing for it to continue, to see how these characters we've come to know over the previous two hours will turn out in the rest of their lives. Alas, the story of their lives is noted only in subtitles as the film closes.
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