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  • Gareth Crook

Chariots of Fire (1981) - 7/10

Based on real events, this is a very British film of very British determinism. It’s the definition of classic… and class. Right from the off we get Vangelis’ iconic synth score as runners glide through the surf along a cold looking beach. The skies heavy, the all white uniforms splattered with wet sand. It’s the most recognisable scene in the film, but completely unlinked to the narrative. It’s the 1920s. At Cambridge University, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is a student and a jew. It defines him, limits him, “They lead me to water, but won’t let me drink”. A definition that makes him different from the rest. As a runner though he stands out for good reason. He’s fast. Very fast. We’re in an age of rule Britannia, god save the king and church on Sunday. Perhaps more so for Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a clean living, staunchly principled Scotsman who sees running and faith intertwined, happily dishing out pulpit like advice after races. Like Abrahams, he’s fast and Harold sees a target. With the help of coach Sam Mussabini (Ian Holms) the race is on. It’s a heady mix of antisemitism and sport. At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, this mix  comes together. Along with some added spice from those pesky Americans. Although stuffy with all the Gilbert and Sullivan and what. There’s enough in here to keep the pace up and with support from characters like Nigel Havers Lord Andrew Lindsay, the political negotiations have almost as much bite as the on track action. Despite some of the themes, it doesn’t quite cut deep enough though. Struggling perhaps to fit the glory of the running in around the relationships and social battles. Nevertheless it’s still a great film and unsurprisingly grabbed a lot of acclaim. It does feel a little safe, with a feeling that everything is okay in the end. It’s a good starting point though. Abrahams alone is worthy of further reading and was present at Roger Bannister’s record breaking 4 minute mile and I could forgive almost anything for that Vangelis score.



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