Chariots of Fire review

The spectre of the Olympics now looms so large on the horizon that it is beginning to block out all forms of sunlight over East London and so to cash in on the quadrennial gathering of the planet's sporting elite, the decision was made to re-release the classic tale of a quest for sporting glory, Chariots of Fire.  

The film tells the true-story of Harold Abrahams (Cross) and Eric Liddell (Charleson) who, in a time when men threw around casual racism with gay abandon and athletes drank brandy and smoked cigarettes post race also face personal difficulties outside of the running track.  Abrahams feels he has to prove himself to his peers as he is Jewish and believes that others look down on him for this, his determination to win a gold medal and prove them all wrong is the driving force behind his actions.  Liddell struggles to balance his passion for running with his commitment to God and finds the two clashing head on when he is asked to run on the Sabbath, something which obviously goes against his strict religious values.

While a film about the fortunes of a bunch of toffs from Cambridge could easily leave the viewer feeling somewhat disinterested (unless of course you are a toff from Cambridge), the themes of being an outsider, religious tolerance and the idea that hard work is rewarded with success are universal themes that are just as relevant today as they ever were.  If anything, the idea that a country seeks to rebuild itself after a major event (in this case World War I) through the championing of sportsmen and women couldn’t be more appropriate today if it tried.

Alongside excellent performances from the two leads, the rest of the cast play their parts admirably with Ian Holm being his usual excellent self as Abrahams coach Sam Mussabini.  Nigel Havers, Daniel Gerroll and Nicholas Farrell back up the leads effectively with Havers providing his usual foppish charm as Lord Andrew Lindsay.  Another notable performance comes from Ruby Wax as a very excited spectator.  Yep, Ruby Wax.  The race scenes are convincing enough, although I find it a little hard to believe that Eric Liddell based his running style on a child running away from an angry wasp.  

Hugh Hudson’s direction is assured and with the film now being digitally re-mastered, the scenes look excellent up on the big screen. The score from Vangelis Papathanassiou is, in my opinion, one of the best film soundtracks ever produced and it really helps to create a great atmosphere throughout, it especially does an excellent job to raise the tension during the build-up to Abraham’s climactic final race and of course there is the legendary opening sequence which has been parodied innumerable times since.    

In this Olympic year the downright patriotism of the whole thing means that you can’t help but feel a swell of national pride, it is nice to see the Union Jack being waved around in a situation that isn’t something to do with the royal family or a BNP rally. Chariots of Fire is an unapologetically blatant celebration Britain and an uplifting and inspiring piece of cinema, well acted, fantastically scored and skillfully directed.  That rare film that leaves you feeling inspired to go out there and give it your all for Queen and country, or at the very least run for the bus with the soundtrack blaring through your headphones

Chariots of Fire at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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