- Movie Rating -

Chariots of Fire (1981)

| October 9, 1981

I walked out of Chariots of Fire with the full confidence that I had seen one of the best films of the year, which is an opinion that still stands.  I was quick to find out that I was generally alone in that opinion.  My fellow critics and many moviegoers have dismissed this wonderful film as ‘boring’, a ‘snoozefest’ and my favorite ‘It’s just a movie about running?’  Yeah, and Gone With the Wind was a movie about the weather.

I’ve seen the movie again since then and my opinion still stands yet I wonder if the tide of world cinema hasn’t moved past a movie like this.  We are living in the post-Star Wars era, when the youth market has taken over, movies have become more phrenetic and subtlety has become an endangered species.  That, I fear, may be the downfall of this wonderful movie.

Much like Rocky, Chariots of Fire isn’t really about a sport, it’s about the hearts and minds of those who play them.  Why do they participate?  What drives them to succeed?  What keeps them going?  Why do they have to need it?  What pressures are put to them by the pillars of the establishment?  Running is simply the foundation of this story.  It isn’t about the sport itself, which is just as well covered during the Olympics, but the insider stuff is what makes it captivating.

In this case, we are introduced to two men from two different worlds.  First is Eric Liddell (Ian Charleston), a Scot who was born in China to missionary parents.  Despite his family’s disapproval of his desire to be a professional runner, he sees his it as a way to glorify God.  The other is Harold Abraham (Ben Cross), the privileged son of Lithuanian Jews who enter Cambridge and is met with a wall of anti-Semitism which he must overcome in order to become a member of England’s 1924 Olympic track team.

The outward bid to get on the team for both men is to run for King and Country, but obviously each has a desire to run in an effort to gain respect and personal glory for themselves.  But the story is so much more than that.  There are personal stakes, yes, but also the issues of national pride.  Needless to say, both men make the team but a problem arises when Liddle is asked to run on the Sabbath and is pushed by his country’s Olympic gatekeepers to run anyway.  That’s a great scene, built on the tension of ideas and moral codes.

This is a film about a different time, about men with a different code of ethics.  They do what they do for the pride of their country, their race and their creator even when those ethics are at odds with one other.  That’s a million miles from the current bend of often running for the sponsorship of Coca Cola.  This is a deeply felt movie, it’s subtle, beautiful and, yes, one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized