Chariots of Fire was the first British Best Picture winner in over a decade. Most of the younger British cast was unknown and the director Hugh Hudson was more known for documentaries. Though Raiders of the Lost Ark left a stronger impact, Chariots of Fire did launch the careers of many Brits including Richard Griffiths, Kenneth Branagh, and Stephen Fry. For a long time I had no idea what the movie was about aside from one iconic scene. Most people are familiar with the scene where men are running in slow motion to the late Vangelis’ Oscar winning Best Original Score, but few know the context. Chariots of Fire is actually about the 1924 Olympics and the title is referenced in the Bible.
The historical aspect also won the movie Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design. Much like A Man for All Seasons, Chariots of Fire is about a man’s unwavering conviction to his faith. In this case, the story centers on two British athletes motivated by their respective religions. Harold Abrahams is the Jewish athlete who runs to fight anti-Semitism. Ben Cross is a little arrogant, but ultimately sympathetic in his desire to win. Harold’s personal life is seen with his attendance to Cambridge, love of Gilbert & Sullivan, and romance with singer Sybil played by a young Alice Krige.
Ian Holm was the only actor nominated for his portrayal of Harold’s passionate coach Mussabini. Eric Liddell is the devout Christian athlete who runs for God and refuses to work on the Sabbath. Ian Charleson is fully committed to Eric’s convictions. Although Harold and Eric are technically rivals, they rarely interact. More time is spent with their fellow runners Aubrey Montague and/or Lord Andrew Lindsay. Races are especially powerful with the rest of Vangelis’ often anachronistic sounding 80’s electronic score. Although Chariots of Fire isn’t my cup of tea as a slow-paced sports movie, I was won over by its strongly Christian themes and inspirational message.