My mental music player has been looping Vangelis’ theme from “Chariots Of Fire” in my head ever since I played back the movie the other day. I remember the instrumental song as a number one hit in 1982. I fell in love with Vangelis’ music the first time I heard the theme.
The movie had just been released in the U.S. after a successful run in the U.K. Critics and fans, alike, had only positive comments about the film. While I pay scant attention to what the critics say, I guessed that the 1981 film must be worth seeing, simply based on the music. I’ve never been led astray by using that criterion. Indeed, the film proved itself more than a worthwhile work in my estimation, too.
In fact, I think the film worked as a bit of a catalyst in getting me started in the direction of a more active lifestyle. It had already widened my horizons regarding my already strong love of the space/ambient music genre. I was simply thrilled that such obscure, to american tastes, music could leap to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. That’s no small feat.
So, during the fall of the film’s 30th anniversary, I stumbled across the DVD release at the public library. I almost passed it by because I wanted something older. But then the theme music started playing in my mind again. I had to follow through. I borrowed the 25th anniversary release that includes a bonus DVD with the usual tidbits like the publicity trailer and interviews. By the way, the bonus disc is worth viewing, too.
The film, itself, is a period piece based on true stories of the characters. There is some artistic license regarding chronological order and minor facts. I’m OK with the tweaking because the film is a dramatic presentation and not a dry rundown of events. For starters, “Chariots Of Fire” is an epic film of larger than life characters, their lives and the events.
The movie opens with runner Harold Abrahams, played by Ben Cross, entering England’s Cambridge University. Right away he experiences anti-semitism among the staff. We are treated to Abrahams’ run around the courtyard to successfully complete the “Trinity Great Court Run”. The competitors must complete the course before the time it takes for the clock to strike twelve. His victory sets the tone for Abrahams’ character to unfold during the film.
Meantime, Eric Liddell, played by Ian Charleson, is a very fast competitor. Liddell was born in China of Scottish missionary parentage. He has returned to Scotland to pursue competitive running as a way of glorifying god to strengthen his reputation before he returns to China for his missionary work.
As a subplot, Abrahams and Liddell are shown as rivals. The rivalry fades away, though, when both young men are chosen to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Olympiad to be held in Paris.
The character development of both main athletes unfolds and deepens. Abrahams has a driving need to overcome the staid anti- semitism that was present in English academia and society in those days. In effect, he has a huge chip on his shoulder and his Jewishness to defend and promote. Liddell, meantime, has a moral, religious dilema on his hands when he finds out that his heat is scheduled to be run on the Christian Sabbath.
The acting is top notch by all players. Sir John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson play convincing roles as college administrators. The supporting cast is composed of mostly new talent. They all work together with breathtaking period settings and superb costumes to bring the viewer into an emotionally uplifting story.
The film is ranked in the top-20 out of the all-time 100 best films of the U.K. I must agree with that judgement. I heartily recommend this film for its overall quality in addition to the telling of a true story in a reasonably accurate manner.
The cast includes:
Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams the Jewish student.
Ian Charleson is Eric Liddell the son of Scottish missionaries.
Nicholas Farell stars as Aubrey Montague who is Abrahams’ friend.
Nigel Havers is Lord Andrew Lindsay a Cambridge teammate of Abrahams’
Ian Holm plays Sam Mussabini, England’s greatest running coach.
Cheryl Campbell is Jennie Liddell, Eric’s sister.
Alice Krige plays Sybil Gordon who is Abrahams’ fiancée.
“Chariot Of Fire” won four prizes in the 1981 Academy Awards. They were:
Best Picture, Original Music Score, Original Screenplay, and costume design. At the 1981 Cannes Film Festival the movie won Best Supporting Actor, Ian Holm and Special Mention Prize of the Jury, Hugh Hudson for directing.
This is a good film for family viewing. There is one obscenity used in the taxicab scene that was placed there to obtain a PG rating for American audiences to boost box office reciepts. It’s hardly noticeable. I enjoyed the film.
The Blue Jay of Happiness recommends this uplifting story.