Director: Hugh Hudson
Starring: Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Holm
Academy Awards (1982):
Best Picture: David Puttnam
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Colin Welland
Best Music, Original Score: Vangelis
Best Costume Design: Milena, Canonero
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Ian Holm
Best Director: Hugh Hudson
Best Film Editing: Terry Rawlings
Based on a true story, Chariots of Fire is the internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning drama of two very different men who compete as runners in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell (Charleson), a serious Christian Scotsman, believes that he has to succeed as a testament to his undying religious faith. Harold Abrahams (Cross), is a Jewish Englishman who wants desperately to be accepted and prove to the world that Jews are not inferior. The film crosscuts between each man’s life as he trains for the competition, fueled by these very different desires. (From RottenTomatoes.com)
I’ve owned Chariots of Fire for many years, and it’s a bit surprising that I’m only now getting around to watching it. It was enjoyable to watch, and unique enough to keep me engaged. It’s one of the few family-friendly movies I’ve watched for this project.
This film stays much closer to the source material than most films based on real events. From what little research I’ve done, a lot of the characters portrayed, the various runners from each country and so on, are historically accurate. A few people did not give consent for their names to be used, and a few of the background details, where they attended school, etc., were changed.
Perhaps because it was made in the early 1980s or the fact that it’s a 1920s period piece, Chariots of Fire has a more basic visual approach. It also focuses on developing conflicted yet strong main characters and less on visual effects and a complex set of characters.
I have a feeling that if Chariots of Fire was released today, it wouldn’t get a second look from the Academy. The film’s pace is slow and the acting is serviceable though not necessarily spectacular.
Chariots of Fire‘s charm comes from the inner struggle that Abrahams and Liddell deal with throughout the film. Abrahams is out to prove himself despite the fact that he is seen as inferior because he is a Jew. He seems more passionate, though not as focused in direction and purpose as Liddell, even saying “I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”
Liddell, on the other hand, has a very clear reason and purpose. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” His refusal to race on Sunday made headlines in its day. The issue was resolved months before the trip to Paris in reality, however pushing back the discovery and changes added for the film’s dramatic effect. Liddell is a good example of maintaining one’s beliefs in spite of the consequences. I find that admirable regardless of what one’s convictions are.
Ian Holm earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Sam Mussabini in this movie. He does well as the straight-forward no nonsense trainer. I like straight-forward no nonsense characters. They’re blunt and inadvertently add a little comic relief. Mussabini is almost an 1920s version of Mickey Goldmill from Rocky.
I have mixed feelings about Chariots of Fire. On the one hand, it did win best picture in a year that also had Raiders of the Lost Ark and On Golden Pond up for the nomination. It’s a charming film with two protagonists, each with something to prove, however, there’s not much of a re-watchable factor for me. The film’s score can be set to anything in slow motion and immediately make it awesome. The score, which earned an Oscar for the film, is probably the biggest and most long-lasting cultural contribution.
This is a film to see once.
My Rating: 3/5 stars.