Hugh Hudson’s Oscar-winning film Chariots Of Fire goes back to Paris and the 1924 Olympics, where Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) represented Britain on the track. From different backgrounds: Abraham a Cambridge student, Liddell a devout Christian Scot, the film follows their lives and loves before the two come together in Paris. Abrahams was to win gold in the 100 yards, Liddell gold in the 400 yards; but only because the 100 yards, run on a Sunday, conflicted with Liddell’s religious beliefs and he withdrew.
Hudson and writer Colin Welland, whose Oscar ceremony cry of, “The British are coming” has entered film history, created a masterful film that follows the parallel careers of the two athletes before bringing them together on the trip to France. There is a slight tinkering with history: Liddell knew well in advance of the timetable and actually trained for the 400 yards well in advance; whereas in the film, he apparently only learns of the schedule on the trip over. But this cannot detract from the sheer drama of the film, with Ian Holm as Abraham’s trainer deserving of his Oscar nomination. The Oscar-winning score from Vangelis is now iconic, and Hudson, directing just his second film, captures the period and the mood exactly, when winning was simply for glory rather than financial gain.
UK / 1981
Director: Hugh Hudson
Writer: Colin Welland
Cast: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers, Ian Holm, John Gielgud