Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, are driven to win in the 1924 Olympics as they wrestle with issues of pride and conscience.Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, are driven to win in the 1924 Olympics as they wrestle with issues of pride and conscience.Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, are driven to win in the 1924 Olympics as they wrestle with issues of pride and conscience.
Ben Cross and Ian Charleson play Harold Abraham and Eric Liddell who are among the survivors of a lost generation to enter college, Cambridge to be precise in 1919, the year after World War I ended. It was called The Great War and the contemplation of another was too horrible to imagine. Cross as Abraham was a veteran of the war, though that fact is curiously downplayed in Chariots Of Fire.
What is emphasized is his Jewish faith. Though Benjamin Disraeli had been Prime Minister and Lord Isaacs as Chief Justice and Sir Herbert Samuel never had to convert as Disraeli did for a political career, the very top of British society was still closed to Jews. I wonder if Ernest Hemingway had known the real Harold Abraham because he could have been a model for Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises. Abraham is not obnoxious like Cohn, but has reason for the chip on his shoulder as the Cambridge dons led by John Gielgud confront him about employing a 'professional' trainer. Gielgud could have been some mossback running the NCAA.
Eric Liddell is running for his faith as well. He was not in the war, he was in China with his missionary father. Today he'd be a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, back in the day he typified what was then called 'muscular Christianity', the idea to show that being a Christian was not something for weaklings.
Of course each in his own way makes his point, that in fact is the sum and substance of Chariots Of Fire. With Ian Charleson as Liddell, he makes an issue out of not running in an Olympic event held on the sabbath. I remember back in the day Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch in the World Series game held on Yom Kippur. Of course since the Dodgers also had Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen available at the time that was hardly a detriment. In fact the sabbath dispute over Liddell's views is solved in much the same manner.
Chariots Of Fire is a nice depiction of the United Kingdom during the Twenties. It was not all the jazz age of partying, there were some very serious folk, even young folk at the time. Cross and Charleson play two such.
There might be dispute over whether it was the Best Film of 1981, but the unforgettable musical score there was no doubt about. The awards that Chariots Of Fire won for Costume Design and Original Screenplay were also deserved.
I think the value of Chariots Of Fire is that not only is it an inspirational film, but it takes place during an age when such things were scorned in some quarters. For that reason the film is both a good historical record and of timeless value.
- Jul 18, 2009