The Best Picture Winners: Chariots of Fire (1981)

| December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas, everyone!

So, as you know, Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

In general, there are only two things that the average moviegoer remembers about Chariots of Fire.  First, it was the movie that bested Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Best Picture race and, second, Vangelis’ memorable score.  Everything else about the film seems to have slipped out of common knowledge.

That’s really too bad because revisiting this film I found it to be deeply engrossing.  In many ways, it is effective in the same way as the early Rocky pictures; its a movie that involves a sport, but it involves us more in the individual lives of those involved.  Chariots of Fire is really not a movie about the 1924 British Olympic track team, it’s really a portrait of the men whose desire to run for King and Country is only trumped by their passion to follow different paths to success.  On one side is Eric Liddle (Ian Charleson), the Scottish son of devout Christian missionaries whose deep religious faith is the engine on which he runs.  On the other is Harold Abraham (Ben Cross), son of a Lithuanian Jew whose life of privilege is curtailed only by antisemitism.

I really grew to appreciate this story, of these men and their passion.  They are admirable, honorable and individual.  In fact, the only flaw in this film, ironically, is the one thing that most everyone remembers – the score.  Vangelis’ theme was all over the place in 1981, and was parodied at every opportunity, but within the film it doesn’t really fit.  So much love and attention has gone into the post-war period detail whenever the modern electronic score kicks in it takes you out of the moment.  Still, it doesn’t soften the impact of the film.  It’s a well-made film that doesn’t go for cheap theatrics.  I got caught up in these stories, these men, and their convictions.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.