Monday, August 15, 2016

Chariots of Fire

      In honor of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, I've decided to review the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire, which is also celebrating its 35th anniversary. This extraordinary films highlights the lives of the Olympic track and field team from Great Britain that started at Cambridge University and the hills of Scotland in 1919 and ended at the Paris Olympics in 1924. Two of these athletes, Harold Abrahams, a Jewish student facing down prejudice against his people, and Eric Liddell, the son of Scottish missionaries to China both made history at the Olympics. One ran for the glory of his people and the other ran for the glory of God. 

     A year after WWI has ended, the University of Cambridge is still grieving for the many losses of the former students who were killed in the line of duty. However, this does not deter the faculty in believing that their next generation of young men will bring England and Cambridge honor in the upcoming Olympic years. One of these men, Harold Abrahams who is a gifted runner, is as ambitious as any other student, but must face anti-Semitism everyday. Harold is determined to have the world see him as a proud Englishman who is also proud of his heritage. 

     Meanwhile, in Scotland. Young athlete and devout Christian, Eric Liddell, is at a crossroads in his life. Does he return to the China Inland Mission where his family have faithfully served the people for years or does his use his great talent as an opportunity for his own mission work? His sister, Jennie, is opposed to Eric running, but he assures her that he runs for God not for man. 

Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell
      Finally, after six years of training, both Eric and Harold are accepted onto the Great Britain Olympic team. Yet, it doesn't take long for Eric to cause a stir around the world when he refuses to compete in the running heats that take place on Sunday. Due to his strict Christian upbringing, Eric believes that Sunday is meant for God and God alone. While his family back in Scotland are proud of Eric's decision, the Olympic Committee and the rest of the world, including England's Prince of Wales are at odds to know what to do. Yet, Eric stands firms in his convictions and soon a compromise is made with another teammate allowing Eric to run on another day.

     In 1924, the American team are considered unbeatable and that puts immense pressure on the British team to go above and beyond their efforts. Harold wins gold in the 100 metres after being beaten in the 200 metres by the American favorite. Gold for Harold is more than a medal, it's a statement of his national pride to the world. Meanwhile, Eric must compete in the long 400 metre race that he was not trained for. Yet, he gets a message of hope from American Competitor and fellow Christian, Jackson Sholz, congratulating him for his convictions. Eric won gold and won it with Jack's note in his hand. 

     England returns home victorious, and Harold and Eric go back to their lives. Harold marries beautiful actress Sybil Gordan and they remained married until Sybil's death in 1963. During WWII, Harold and Sybil took in two Jewish children who were escaping Nazi terror. Eric returned to China to continue his family's work and eventually married, he but died in prison camp in 1945 in Japan-occupied China.

The famous opening sequence on the beach
     Considered one of the best Olympic movies ever made, Chariots of Fire not only tells the story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, but also of their teammates who also made their own history in the 1924 Paris Olympics. The movie is simple, no great technical work, just good writing and good acting and there was definitely both. Chariots of Fire is also famous for it's opening music sequence that is completely ingrained into popular culture. Inspirational, humorous and hopeful, Chariots of Fire is more than a story about an Olympic team, but rather an emotional journey to overcome prejudice and despair and using one's gifts for the glory of others, on earth and on Heaven.


  1. This is one of my all time favourite films! Isn't the costuming and the story just so beautiful?!

    1. It's wonderful! Everything about it!


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