They don’t call them classics for nothing. Here, listen to this:
Now with that little ditty playing in your head (probably on repeat for the rest of the week) you should understand the inspirational frame of mind this movie has put me in. Chariots of Fire is driven and dramatic, with a hint of the divine. It’s the Olympics like you’ve never seen them before (unless you were born before 1920, then maybe you have), and it runs on the fumes of hopes, dreams, and raw talent.
Today’s Olympic ceremonies are all about who has the biggest fireworks and the fanciest images projected on the stadium floor. In 1924, the opening ceremonies included a band, a flag, and an anthem. These pioneers muster all the pomp and circumstance they can, but we have definitely come a long way. Anyway, I digress. Chariots of Fire is the true story of two athletes who strive for gold: the Jewish Cambridge student, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), and the Scottish priest, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson). Both are runners and both are inhumanly fast. Abrahams wants to be the best because it will prove (in his 1920s society) that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe in. Liddell, meanwhile, has nothing to prove, and only runs because it is a God-given gift. He does, however, struggle with splitting his time between training and being the priest his sister wants him to be. In a very Ron Howard Rush-like manner, these two Brits push each other to be the best and go for Olympic gold in Paris 1924.
The opening sequence (shown in the clip above) is just plain awesome, but the entire intro, meaning the section of the film which acquaints you with the characters and the plot, is a wee bit silly. First we’re in 1978, then it’s 1924, and oh dear back again to 1919, never mind it’s 1920, and jump forward to 1924. Backstories are great, but not when it makes you feel like the time traveller’s wife. Watching Chariots of Fire is also a bit of a time-travelling experience because it feels like a much older movie than it is. It was released in 1981, but it’s shot and acted like a black and white. This is a neat feature since the cinematography and acting style alone, without the assistance of costumes and classic cars, makes it look like Chariots of Fire is coming to you straight from the “golden age” of cinema – minus, of course, the occasional slow motion shot.
The acting is also phenomenal. Each character is so hopelessly driven and committed you forget they’re actors. They all have their unique running styles too. Eric Liddell, especially, finishes each race like he’s a duck trying to take flight. It may not be the most graceful style, but hey, you can’t argue with results!
The music is fabulous, the dialogue is intense, and it’s a throwback to days gone by. Chariots of Fire earns 7 shin splints out of 10.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a run.