“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure,” said Eric Liddell to his pious sister.
Of God and men, of faith and patriotism, for serving God and breaking stereotypes, Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire wraps them all in a biopic about British athletic team’s triumphant victory in the 1924 Olympics. It’s a rare picture which concatenates the urgency of nationalism, ambition, and the evangelism on running tracks, making it one of the strongest Best Picture winners.
Chariots centers on two intertwining stories in one frame. Harold Abrahams (portrayed by Ben Cross), an English Jew, runs to fight over anti-Semitism prejudice; meanwhile, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a Christian missionary runs for the glory of God. They fight their own fight and run their own run; but, in the end, their trails intersect for a greater good.
Sermons, prep-talks and post-WW I spiritualism converge in complex character study, which often is characterized in rivalry fashion, but never become a straight confrontation. Both figures’ backstories are mined cleverly with nods to socio-political circumstances around the era and sympathetic approach. Having watched this, I now realize where Ron Howard’s inspiration in making ‘rivalry biopic’ came from.
Aside from Vangelis’ score which now becomes classic and the neat storyline, Chariots also shines with fabulous performances, including Ian Holm’s trainer character, and the leads. Cross emanates strong will, which finally breaks the prejudice, while Charleson (whose life partially resembles Liddell) is more restrained; and, combination of such characters is such a winning formula.
Chariots might resemble the run on the beach compared to the run on actual track, but its strong message ventures further than anything else on track.
Chariots of Fire (1981)