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 | 123 minutes | 1981
Director: Hugh Hudson
Script: Colin Welland,
Nigel Davenport as Lord Birkenhead
Nicholas Farrell as Aubrey Montague
Alice Krige as Sybil Gordon
John Gielgud as Master of Trinity
Cheryl Campbell as Jennie Liddell
Peter Jones as
Patrick Magee as Lord Cadogan
Jeremy Sinden as President – Gilbert and Sullivan Society
Daniel Gerroll as Henry Stallard
Colin Bruce as Taylor
John Young as Rev. J.D. Liddell
Yves Beneyton as George Andre
Philip O’Brien as US Coach
Stephen Fry as Singer in “HMS Pinafore’ (uncredited)
Jack Smethurst as Sleeping Car Attendant
Peter Egan as Duke of Sutherland
Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams
Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell
Nigel Havers as Lord Andrew Lindsay
Ian Holm as Sam Mussabini
Lindsay Anderson as Master of Caius
Dennis Christopher as Charles Paddock
Brad Davis as Jackson Scholz
Struan Rodger as Sandy McGrath
Richard Griffiths as Head Port-Caius College
David Yelland as Prince of Wales
Michael Lonsdale as Garth Jones
Patrick Doyle as Jimmie
Yvonne Gilan as Mrs Liddell
David John as Ernest Liddell
Benny Young as Rob Liddell
Gerry Slevin as Colonel John Keddie
Stephen Mallatratt as Watson
Alan Polonsky as Paxton
Edward Wiley as Fitch
Andrew Hawkins as Secretary – Gilbert and Sullivan Society
Peter Cellier as Head Waiter – The Savoy
Ruby Wax as Bunty
Ralph Lawton as Harbour Master
Kim Clifford as Sybil’s Maid
John Rutland as Caius Porter
Kenneth Branagh as Cambridge Student – Society Day crowd (uncredited)
Ted Robbins as Shot Putter (uncredited)
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