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
Stephen Fry: Singing in the chorus of the Cambridge "H.M.S. Pinafore" production. He is the third face to the right of Harold Abrahams, singing "He Is An Englishman". He's on-screen for about thirty-five seconds. See more »
On board the ship that's taking the athletes to France, water sprinklers can clearly be seen in the tiled ceilings. 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 »
I watched this again last night. I had forgotten just how beautifully done it was - both a character study of two very different men and a gripping plot of their attempts to succeed - partly through athletics. the writer and director so well convey both Cambridge and the Edinburgh Presbyterian missionary disciples, in the early 1920s so very well.
The acting is superb - I had never seen a character presented like Eric Liddell in movies - how fine Ian Charleson was in this role, the softness of his voice, his ease and joy in running competitively (especially in contrast with the tense tortured Harold Abrahams). I also loved the more supporting roles - I've read a biography of F.E. Smith and Nigel Davenport is exactly how I would imagine him. The actor who played the Prince of Wales also seemed exactly right with his effortless charm, looks, and lack of imagination. Ian Holm, John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson - all wonderful.
The actors weren't chosen for glamour either - Liddell and Abrahams are not Leni Riefenstahl images of athletic ideals, Liddell's sister is no beauty - and Abrahams' girlfriend is pretty but not stunning. It made them seem more real. (In nice contrast were the near-pretty boy looks of Nigel Havers as Lord Lindsay - it so suited his character).
The races are riveting - partly due to the music and sound effects.
So many small things are done so well - e.g., when Lord Lindsay has the confidence of his class to barge into a room containing the Prince of Wales, and three other lords (including Birkenhead and the head of the British Olympic Committee) and greets them by name - no need for introduction there (as there was for Liddell). It's small but seems quite real.
As an American, it was interesting and funny to see our Olympic team shown as the numerous, ominous, invulnerable "other"! (something like watching a Rocky movie with Rocky as the product of a Russian or East German success machine!). In fact, the one scene that seemed a bit off was the scene of the American track athletes warming up for the Games - all heavy music, machine like athletes, ferocious coach yelling with a megaphone into people's ears. It pounded too hard on the "these are the scary almighty inhuman opponents" theme in contrast to the cheerful British boys running along the beach.
Something I had forgotten about the movie was how stubborn BOTH protagonists are - Liddell fully as much as Abrahams. Liddell is not overly deferential or bashful when dealing with the Prince of Wales - but instead straightforward and very firm.
I truly can't understand anyone not liking this movie - it is very exciting even on the basic level of "will they win?" and so much more. (For example, Ian Holm's character's reaction to success after 30 years is very moving). Those who write to say that "Reds" deserved the Oscar more - are simply wrong. (Reds was so simplistic that it felt like watching the movie "The Hardy Boys Go to the Russian Revolution"). Those who say they cannot differentiate among the boys or between the Scottish and English accents - well, it sounds like some political statement to me.
Do watch it - it's very fine, very moving, very exciting.
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