Directed by: Hugh Hudson
Written by: Colin Welland
Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige
Talent and hard work dictate the success of athletes but the balance between them can set one apart from the others. Some things can be worked towards, but at times natural talent surpasses anything someone could achieve through dedication. We see that in sports today and it’s displayed in the inspirational Chariots of Fire.
Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) have each found themselves in the world of running for different reasons. Harold wants to gain success and prove his doubters wrong as a Jewish man while Eric believes in the power of God, which has propelled him to success as a runner. Both of them converge and have their own journeys on the way to representing England in the Olympics.
The connection between Harold and Eric in this feature displays two men fighting different battles within the same sport. They both want to overcome it with their athletic ability but they must accomplish the challenge alone. In the sport of track and field, you enter the competition as a team but each trial comes down to individual performance and overcoming the obstacles it brings. Harold must contend with the anti-Semitism raging with his classmates and his university overall. He breaks all conventions because he realizes he will never fit the mold others conform to for success. On the other hand, we have Eric, who lives with his missionary sister. She wishes for him to focus on God, but he feels his higher being is calling him to run. I don’t blame him considering the amount of natural talent he has for the sport. While Harold faces outward pressures to succeed, Eric fights an internal one with his faith.
Their obstacles converge when they meet each other and attempt to join the Olympic team and their meeting does not go well after they race. What begins as an icy relationship transforms into an inspiring story of collaboration and contributes to the success of this film. The most iconic scene of this film comes from the group of men running on the beach scored by the iconic theme composed by Vangelis. When this moment arrives, it hits like a ton of bricks because of what it means to these men as they run on this beach together.
The different means from their success set these two apart. Harold wants to prove everyone around him wrong and decides to have a running coach work on his technique portrayed very well by Ian Holm. Doing this became a taboo move because of the sanctity of amateurism the people around him valued. He works harder than anyone to reach the top, even alienating the woman he claims to love. Running becomes the very fabric of his existence and will not allow anything to get in his way of success and proving what a Jewish man could achieve. His story revolves around his hard work while Eric relies on his talent.
As most sports films attempt to do, Chariots of Fire highlights the struggle of success in sports and how short-lived these careers could be. The shelf life for a runner dwindles with each year they age because younger competitors enter from the fray as they get older. The challenge becomes for them to make each moment count. This film continually builds up to the big moment where these men take to the track of the Olympic field. Building up to this moment comes with the various tropes usually found in sports movies, but the characters established pushes the audience to root for them in their pursuits for different reasons. Competitively running will not be something they will do for the rest of their lives, but this becomes their opportunity to achieve something not many can do.
It’s easy to see why Chariots of Fire won Best Picture when it was released because it will make you want to jump outside and go for a run. All of the best sports movies will cause that spur of inspiration to push you to be stronger and work harder. This film achieves this by establishing characters with motives anyone can respect and pushing them to their limit in order to achieve. A very well made film and one to revisit if you need a jolt of energy to achieve your goals.