The come-from-behind winner of the 1981 Oscar for best picture, Chariots of Fire either strikes you as either a cold exercise in mechanical manipulation or as a tale of true determination and inspiration. The heroes are an unlikely pair of young athletes who ran for Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics: devout Protestant Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a divinity student whose running makes him feel closer to God, and Jewish Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a highly competitive Cambridge student who has to surmount the institutional hurdles of class prejudice and anti-Semitism.
There’s delicious support from Ian Holm (as Abrahams’s coach) and John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson as a couple of Cambridge fogies. Vangelis’s soaring synthesized score, which seemed to be everywhere in the early
1980s, also won an Oscar. Chariots of Fire was the debut film of British television commercial director Hugh Hudson (Greystoke) and was produced by David Puttnam.
Ian Charleson (Eric): Then where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.
Ian Charleson (Eric): I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.
Ian Holm (Sam): Yeah he’s fast! But he won’t go any faster. He’s a gut runner, digs deep! But a short sprint is run on nerves. It’s tailor-made for neurotics.