Wednesday, 18 August 2010


"This is the story of two men who run...not to run...but to prove something to the world. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals...Except their honor"

Triumphant sports films have become a popular genre of mine over the years and CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) is another example of just how people go the distance to try and claim their glory on the sporting field, and adds to the uplifting aim that is set towards its audiences. When we first hear the glorious yet haunting music of Vangelis playing as the athletes are training on the soggy wet beach, we straight away know how this true-life sports drama would inspire real-life athletes to gain the determination of achieving their goal but having to go through bigotry and prejudice as the two main runners in this film have to induce. Hugh Hudson created a well orchestrated film that although surprising many at the Oscars in 1982 (leading to the infamous British are coming speech by writer Colin Welland), it still proved a point with helping British films revive themselves after the 70s failed to produce many successes that did well on both sides of the Atlantic. The film based itself on the story of the 1924 Olympics in Paris which saw Britain produce success through its two main runners Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) but both men would have to go through their religious faith in order to ensure they could become champions but without being flawed because of their backgrounds. They stand up for what they believe in and refuse to sacrifice their principles because it is the easy way out.

After we are introduced to a funeral scene from 1978 where Abrahams has died, the famous beach scene builds up to find both Abrahams and Liddell prepared their participation in the Olympics over five years showing how they got involved along with their fellow racers. We are firstly presented with Abrahams' story in 1919 arriving at Cambridge University, which has been mourning the death of many men from the First World War, but wanting to put faith in their new recruits to try and lift them up from the tragedy of the previous four years. Abrahams' who is of Jewish heritage gets to know fellow student Aubrey Montague (Nicolas Farrell) and straight away the ambition of both men with their sport is apparent as they have five years to get into the Olympics as competitors. Abrahams' gains his definite bid by breaking a 700 year old record of racing around the Cambridge University courtyard in under twelve seconds, alongside fellow athlete Lord Andrew Lindsey (Nigel Havers) who despite his title tries to compete like everyone else. Up north in Scotland, churchgoer Liddell is a local celebrity around his country (even treated as the David Beckham of his time) and a successful athlete but his commitment to God stops him from being hugely involved in major competitions although he is backed by others to do his duty for His sake. However sister Jenny (Cheryl Campbell) tries to make Eric understand that he could lose his faith in God if he takes part in the races though eventually Eric makes her aware that he was made for a purpose and that is to compete and win.

Eventually both Abrahams and Liddell are intertwined into a British rivalry with Abrahams determined to prove he is the fastest person out of the two. However Abrahams' pursuit of singer Sybil (Alice Krige) helps him with his emotional push but after losing a race to Liddell, he feels down and out but seeks the help of experienced Italian trainer Sam Mussambini (Ian Holm) to try and get him back on his feet while being supported by Sybil as well. However he isn't backed by his Cambridge superiors (Sir John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson) who aren't happy with the hiring of Mussambini but also because they fear that Abrahams' Jewish tradition may lead to him being an outcast, but he is determined to prove them wrong. Along with Liddell, both men are signed up for the Olympics along with Lindsey and Montague and prepare themselves for their head-to-heads with their American counterparts (Dennis Christopher and Brad Davis), the fastest men in the world at that time. Once in France, Liddell's participation in the tournament is already under threat when he discovers that he will have to race on a Sunday which leads to outrage about choosing God over country. However through a moment of dignity from Lindsey, Liddell gets his chance to race on a different day. The course of the film then makes us support the British athletes as the trials and tribulations are placed for whether they can triumph and earn national pride, before the climax itself gives a haunting reminder of the glory years with a beautiful choir rendition of Jerusalem.

Though some may call it one of the overrated films of recent times, Chariots of Fire remains a beautifully made film about triumph, sorrow, sacrifice and defiance. Director Hugh Hudson struggled for much success after this film but he at least earned the respect of making a crucial film that showed us just how great things were back in the early 20th Century with how no matter who you were or whether you won or lost, you'd always be welcomed as true British heroes in that era. Colin Welland's simple but loyal screenplay gives the film the cutting edge of what Abrahams and Liddell went through their prejudices and their bid to triumph at the Olympics. Lead actors Ben Cross and the late Ian Charleson both gave compassionate performances as the two athletes determined to prove a point, Abrahams' tortured personality is played well by Cross though Charleson gave a more emotionally-charged edge to Liddell who is torn between racing and religion and knows that he can't do both without complications. Nigel Havers and Nicholas Farrell both give dignified roles as the two other athletes eager to do their country proud while Ian Holm as the Italian trainer adds the experienced and committed side to his role particularly his joyous reaction to Abrahams winning his race. The rest of the supporting cast including Alice Krigem, Nigel Davenport and Sir John Gielgud all give stern back-up to the film's ensemble and making it such a British set of fine actors.

Vangelis' musical score carries the film through its core adding to the beauty of it, as well as the slow-motion effects which help the film especially the opening beach scene and the race sequences which are filmed brilliantly to catch the edginess of the character's fate in these races. One particular reason for the film's popularity especially with those like myself from the Merseyside sector, is that the Olympic event in it was filmed in the Bebington Oval which does question the decision of filming a major sports event set in France, on the backdrop of the Wirral? Nevertheless that doesn't deter how well filmed it is although some have questioned the inaccuracies of the film's story with regards to certain aspects of the film such as Liddell's sister showing her displeasure about her brother competing. This was untrue according to Jenny Liddell in real life but has probably been done to add emotional confrontation between the two siblings while other records of both main racer's participation in the events again is flawed to create dramatic effect such as the day Liddell was supposed to race in. Overall though this is a truly exhilarating movie about a different era, about competition and what may serve as motivation to compete, and perhaps about what kinds of motivation are healthy and what kinds are not


At 24 August 2010 at 16:40 , Blogger Tom said...

That was a very good review!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home