Chariots of Fire (1981)

PG   |    |  Biography, Drama, Sport

Chariots of Fire (1981) Poster

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew, and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

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  • Ben Cross and Nigel Havers in Chariots of Fire (1981)
  • Ben Cross and Ian Charleson in Chariots of Fire (1981)
  • Chariots of Fire (1981)
  • Alice Krige and Ben Cross in Chariots of Fire (1981)
  • Ben Cross and Ian Charleson in Chariots of Fire (1981)
  • Chariots of Fire (1981)

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Reviews & Commentary

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13 April 2000 | admco.c
A classic.
On a basic level it is the ultimate British Oscar-winning period piece and influential, uplifting feel-good film. Its two chief qualities are its subsequently strong realism and the resonant Vangelis soundtrack that, as with 'Blade Runner', increases the strength and significance of scenes through sound. Although it has a specific setting or historical background, the music adds an appropriate timelessness to the powerfully relevant human themes. These include winning and losing, of having what it takes to run the race, and of the old gentlemanly values of religion, decency and personal honour. It is the determining of the self, the inner strength, by understanding and will. The real-life characters and events are brought to life with the engaging realization that a climax will arrive at the end. At its core is a rivalry, less of a personal one and more the dilemma of two men wanting to win the same race. However, the climax is not predictable for such a straight-forward competition cannot occur. That is to say, they are both dedicated and honest men, with completely different religions, and it is this combination of resolution and talent which enables them both to win their own race. Around this central thread of training and determination, the film-makers have recreated the world surrounding these university characters in the 1920s. Scenes are filled with the casual, graceful attitudes that are a very British ideal; sophisticated prowess, decency, honesty, religion and intellect, values which seem to be less respected in this modern time. It portrays a credible idealism.

One of the first scenes of the film shows the running students. It celebrates this stage in life of onsetting maturity, comraderie and destiny through this bygone group of individual characters, united by the shared realization of their strengths. Throughout there is also the vague impression of higher powers at work, not so much the embedded attitudes of the old generation, but the position of man's humility in experiencing the challenge of life's great race created for them, and not only feeling the love that can be found, but rising to shine in one's own glory, enabled because of the higher glory. Not many viewers, especially today, accept such adherence and orthodoxy to Christianity, that can be seen as the motivation for the character Liddell. This film reminds us of the prominence and influence it had over so many aspects of society and the beneficial, empowering effects it could give to individuals. Alternatively the character Abrahams is a jew, and relies more on the attributes of his character which include a desperate determinism that reaps a reward of its own, takes him to his limits - although of greater significance is the love of a woman which detracts from perhaps a too heightened focus on himself. Through him we must also realise that there will always be those greater than ourselves, the very fact of our losing, and ultimately swallow pride and feel awe and goodness for the victory of our rivals and our friends. At the end of the film, the race has been run; they have gloriously discovered and revelled in their talents, their time, the fruits of aspiring to something greater than themselves. 'For it says in the good book, he that honours me, I will honour'.

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Did You Know?


Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) was actually based upon Lord Burghley, who refused to cooperate with the filmmakers, and would not allow his name to be used in the production. Upon seeing the completed movie, however, Lord Burghley told the filmmakers that he regretted his earlier refusal to cooperate with the production.


Lord Andrew Lindsay: Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honour the legend. Now there are just two ...


Some historical details (some minor, some not) have been altered for the sake of the narrative. We're inclined towards leniency.

Alternate Versions

There is at least one slightly different version of the movie, issued in Europe on homevideo. The beginning is different - shorter - and introduces Harold Abrahams while playing cricket with his colleagues. The scene in the train station, where Monty meets Harold is absent, as well as the loading of the baggage in the taxi they share. We simply see Monty writing a letter to his parents, mentioning that "Harold is as intense as ever" (cut to the cricket scene, maybe 30 seconds long), and then continues with "I remember our first day... we shared a taxi together" (cut to the two students unloading their stuff from the car). This alternate version also have slightly different end credits, and does not mention Harold marrying Sybil. The differences are minor (the U.S. version provides a more shocking memento of WWI, when it shows crippled baggage handlers in the station); one of the reasons the cricket scene was dropped in favour of the station one was due to the distributor's worry that the American market would not understand it.


(1916) (uncredited)
Music by
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1916)
Words by William Blake (1804)


Plot Summary

Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Biography | Drama | Sport

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