Chariots of Fire
(1981)

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I WILL HONOUR

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Director:                   Hugh Hudson
Producer:                  David Puttnam
Script:                        Colin Welland
Cinematography:     David Watkin
Editing:                      Terry Rawlings
Art Direction:            Roger Hall
Costume Design:      Milena Canonero and Louise Frogley
Original Music:          Vangelis

 

 

Taking its title from a line in a well known poem by William Blake, which was put to music by Sir Hubert Parry as 'Jerusalem', Chariots of Fire is set in the England of the 1920's, and examines the life of young runners, the Jew Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and the Christian Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), and the events which led to the highlight of their careers, the Paris Olympic Games of 1924.

Sporting events today have become rancorous, angry affairs where the motto, more frequently than not, is ‘win at all costs’. Exhibitions of good sportsmanship are about as rare as selflessness. So it's refreshing to look back at an era when victory didn't demand isolation, bitterness and hatred of one's rivals. Chariots of Fire highlights such commendable qualities as commitment, perseverance, and fraternity.

This film tells the story of the British triumphs at the 1924 Olympics, where the British representatives took a number of medals over the heavily favoured Americans. With Abraham's and Lidell leading the way, the British track team had one of their best ever showings. This film traces the two principal athletes' paths to the Paris games, where their on field successes form a surprisingly low-key climax. Chariots of Fire doesn't rely on worn out sports film cliches; it's more interested in motivation and character development. Yes, it's important to know that Abraham's and Lidell win, but the real meat of the story is contained in what leads up to the races.

Apart from the competent performances by the main actors, there are three elements which can explain the success of Chariots of Fire. The first is Colin Welland's screenplay, which is well-structured except towards the end, where it seems a little rushed. The second is the careful period recreation, with all elements looking authentic, from the venerable Cambridge University to the sports stadium in Paris. The third element which made the film a success was the one least likely to succeed: Vangelis's score. Considering that Chariots of Fire is a period piece, it was uncertain what a synthesizer score could have as impact. Yet the score works perfectly, drawing particular attention to the nostalgic angle of the film and enhancing the heroic moments. While Chariots of Fire was a critically-acclaimed film which won, as its crowning achievement, the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1981, its most memorable aspect is not the story itself, but the Vangelis music score, which became a classic and which also earned its composer an Oscar.

 

It is simply teaming with British acting talent including Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Ian Holm, SirJohn Gielgud, Nigel Davenport and Richard Griffiths. Many of these actors went on to great things and many in fact we still see today including the wondering Richard Griffiths. Sadly Ian Charleson died just nine years after the film was made from AIDS, he was only 40.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           

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Chariots of fire