Two British track stars -- one a devout Scottish minister, the other a status-hungry English Jew -- compete in the 1924 Olympics in this celebrated drama, a winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1981. Ben Cross rose to considerable prominence thanks to his portrayal of Harold Abrahams, the son of a Lithuanian immigrant and a fiercely proud man whose painful experience of the British class system casts him in the underdog role. Ian Charleson is equally good as Eric Liddell, the son of missionaries stationed in China who is a decent man and a disciplined athlete. The rivalry between these two charismatic competitors drives Chariots all the way along to their fateful race at the Paris Olympics. And what a run it is: Director Hugh Hudson renders the period with sobriety and stateliness and avoids the usual clichés of sports-themed movies. Ian Holm lends worthy support as Harold’s Italian-Arabic coach, and Sir John Gielgud contributes an amusing cameo. Production-wise, the film is first rate in every way, and the evocative musical score by Vangelis -- an Oscar-winning effort that, for better or worse, long served Madison Ave. as the modern equivalent of Pachelbel’s Canon in D -- works perfectly with David Watkins’s cinematography. A truly inspirational story that unexpectedly captured the hearts of moviegoers, Chariots remains a career high point for all those involved in its making.
As a handsomely realized and superbly acted story about the multi-faceted drive to win, it was perhaps all the more appropriate that Chariots of Fire (1981) overcame its dark-horse status to take the Best Picture Oscar. Based on the true story of two British runners in the 1924 Olympics, the experiences of Ben Cross' Jewish Cambridge student and Ian Charleson's devout missionary peel away the usual patriotic dross to reveal the complex motives that drive competition. The deeply personal victories at stake are rendered all the more dramatic by debut director Hugh Hudson's dynamic training and racing sequences, beginning with the oft-imitated slow-motion run along the beach to the famous strains of Vangelis' Oscar-winning synthesizer score. Along with Cross and Charleson, the ensemble cast shines, particularly Ian Holm as Cross' track coach; John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson, meanwhile, are the quintessential Cambridge Old Guard snobs. Hailed as an old-fashioned, yet unusually intelligent celebration of human spirit, Chariots of Fire became a much-needed international hit for the British film industry and a personal triumph for producer David Puttnam when it snuck past the favored Reds (1981) in the final 1981 Oscar race. Colin Welland's screenplay and Milena Canonero's exquisite period costumes won Oscars as well.
|Source:||Warner Home Video|