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UK 1981
Directed by
Hugh Hudson
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Chariots Of Fire

Hugh Hudson’s film tells the real life story of two dedicated British track athletes, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Lidell (Ian Charleson), who won gold at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. 

Chariots of Fire is a splendid production that won four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score (the Best Director Oscar went to Warren Beatty for Reds). It is, unsurprisingly, a considerable cut above your typical sports movie, although the elements are much the same -  both men are driven by a desire to succeed but both find themselves with choices to make that will test their resolve. And, of course, both men triumph (how many sports films are about losers?)

While Colin Welland's script gives the basic template sophisticated, almost literary substance, Hudson skilfully parlays it into dramatic form, combining with the gorgeous production values to capture the time wonderfully, not just in looks but in tone, particularly when dealing with Abrahams’ Cambridge background. Ben Cross does a fine job as the young man tormented by his Jewishness in such a hallowed home of Anglo-Christian tradition.  As a Scots Presbyterian Liddel’s background is far less imposing but cinematographer David Watkin gives it its due and Charleson gives a convincing performance although both he and Cross are far too old for their parts.  Stealing the limelight in smaller roles are Sir John Gielgud as the Master of Trinity College and Ian Holm as Abrahams’ coach, Sam Mussabini (British director, Lindsay Anderson, appears as the Master of Caius College).

At times Hudson indulges in the sentimental tendencies of the genre and  at nearly two hours it tends to drag in its latter stages but this is still a film that audiences with no interest in sport can enjoy although its earnestness lends itself to parody.

FYI:  Although Holm was Oscar-nominated as a Best Supporting Actor, the award went to Gielgud for his role  in Arthur, Vangelis won the Oscar for Best Original Score, the theme song becoming becoming one of the most iconic songs of the 80s. Hudson was virtual unknown at the time and he never reproduced anything like the success of this film.




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