Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5  
Chariots of Fire (1981)

The true story of Eric Liddle (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who ran for British and Scottish gold in the 1924 Olympics despite great personal obstacles. Liddle, a devoutly religious man, would not run his qualifying heat because it fell on a Sunday, while Abrahams, who was Jewish, faced anti-Semitism.

It seemed a triumph of film-making on its 1981 release and it's the film about which writer Colin Welland famously announced 'The British are coming' in his Oscar acceptance speech.

Now, 20 years later, it's dated. In some ways that actually benefits the film as its true age somehow helps its 1920s setting but other aspects suffer. The famous score by Vangelis, for instance, remains impressive but its electronic sound is so obviously 1980s that it jars against the period detail.

Similarly, audiences in 1981 gave the film a boost because its story of rivals Liddle and Abrahams echoed the contemporary rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Without that same feeling, the film's an oddly simpler story.

It does intend to be simple and it aims to work with elemental ideas like the power of the establishment, of England and of God on their respective subjects. The pressures on these men, as much from within as without, are forgotten today but while we're perhaps meant to lament this, it's hard to. It's an examination of whether Liddle and Abrahams were made by their beliefs or shackled by them.

No athlete today would take Liddle's stance and the film knew that even 20 years ago so there is a poignancy to the principle, a nostalgic air that remains moving.

Read a review of the DVD.

End Credits

Director: Hugh Hudson

Writer: Colin Welland

Stars: Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell

Genre: Drama

Length: 130 minutes

Cinema: 1981

DVD: 14 August 2001

Country: UK

Cinema Search

Where can I see this film?

New Releases