Archive Review – “Chariots Of Fire” (Director: Hugh Hudson)

Review first published 14/07/12

Chariots of Fire

Unless you’ve been living on a desert island, you’ll no doubt know that in less than two week a little shindig called the Olympic Games taking place in London.  To celebrate this event, along with the release of the remastered film on Blu-Ray this coming Monday (16th July), “Chariots Of Fire” is getting a limited re-release in the cinemas.

For those who don’t the film, “Chariots Of Fire” tells the story of two men of different backgrounds, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), who compete as runners for the Great Britain team.  Abrahams is a Jewish Englishman who seeks to use the sport as a way of gaining acceptance amongst his peers, whilst Liddell is a Scot of committed Christian religious beliefs who observes the Sabbath and believes that he has been given his gift to run by God.  The film follows the pair from 1919 through to the Paris Olympics of 1924.

The direction by Hugh Hudson makes the best use of the key settings of Cambridge and the Highlands of Scotland.   Locations across the UK were used for the remaining scenes, including the use of a stadium in Merseyside to double for the Colombe Stadium in Paris.

Colin Welland’s Oscar winning script maintains the spirit of Abrahams’ and Liddell’s twin stories, albeit with some historical inaccuracies and amendments which would only be known if you either saw documentaries about the real story and they don’t really interfere with the flow of the story.  Where his script really scores is in the portrayal of the two lead characters personal convictions and in the way that they were subject to genteel, but plainly obvious, discrimination – Abrahams for his Jewish background and Liddell for the reason of his not competing in the 100 metre heats because they took place on the Sabbath.

The music by Vangelis may have aged a little over the last 31 years, but you could not have this film without his iconic score.  This, along with the general sound quality, has really benefited from the remastering process which has made the sound of the film clearer, crisper and has improved the general overall quality.

The casting is top notch with Ben Cross delivering an emotionally tense performance as the driven Abrahams who seeks to use his talent as a runner as a way for fighting for acceptance in the “polite” face of anti-Semitism, most notably through the Masters of Trinity and Caius College, as portrayed by John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson.

Alongside Cross is co-lead Ian Charleson who portrays Liddell as a fiercely committed man of religious belief, especially in the scene where he must face the British Olympic committee for his refusal to run in the 100 metre heats.  However, Charleson doesn’t make the character of Liddell appear pompous due to the fact that he grounds Liddell’s behaviour with humour and humility.

The main co-stars for this film include Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell and Daniel Gerroll as Abrahams’ collegiate running colleagues Lord Andrew Lindsay, Aubrey Montague and Henry Stallard, Alice Krige in the role of Sybil, Harold’s love interest, and an Oscar nominated performance by Ian Holm as Harold’s coach, Sam Mussabini.

With the release of the film on Blu-Ray, viewers can see it whenever they so wish, but I’m glad to have seen it on the big screen so as to fully appreciate Hugh Hudson’s vision.

I will be going to see the stage version of “Chariots Of Fire” which has recently transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End in late August and a review will be posted on the blog alongside the other plays that I’ll be going to see.

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