By Marc S. Sanders
The 1981 Academy Award Best Picture winner was Chariots Of Fire directed by Hugh Hudson. However, because of that honor I’m not going to pretend that this was a marvelous film viewing experience. This may be one of a select few movies where the soundtrack is far superior to the film itself. That memorable score that gets your pulse racing belongs to Vangelis, and if the soundtrack to Raiders Of The Lost Ark from John Williams should lose the Oscar, it’s not a surprise if it was to the soundtrack from Chariots Of Fire. For me, the two compared against one another though? Well, we might have an argument there, my dear reader.
The film centers particularly on two outstanding runners, maybe the fastest in the world, who compete in the 1924 Olympics for Great Britain. One runner is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a Jewish Cambridge student who is frowned upon for his religion while he is well aware that his heritage is not valued for anything amongst the Christian Anglo Saxon community. It’s all the more challenging when he agrees to private coaching from Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm in an Oscar nominated performance) of Italian and Arab descent.
The other runner is Eric Liddle (Ian Charleson) who loves the exhilaration of running, though his sister prefers he devote his time to the church. He is devout in his Christian beliefs, nonetheless, and he is tested when he learns that one of his competitions is scheduled on a Sunday, the day he observes Sabbath. Despite the Olympic team’s firm position that he compete, Eric’s stance is not to participate in the race.
I don’t want to say that I was bored with Chariots Of Fire, and yet I was bored. The effort to stay with the picture informs me of the value a film can have with marquee names in its cast. As the screenplay moves from one character’s storyline to the next, it was hard to gather where things had left off. Other runners are covered as well though just not as in depth. Most of this cast, I must admit I’m not so familiar with. Sometimes they all seemed to be cut from similar molds in costume, hair color and the like. With known names in a cast, it’s much more easy to put a face with a name and follow along. Here, it was challenging to stay focused with each character. They didn’t seem distinguishable enough for me.
I know! This is not a fair argument. However, this turned out to be my experience with the film.
The technical production of Chariots Of Fire is outstanding, though. Everything from the cobblestone streets of Cambridge to the Olympic stadium in France and the hilltops of Scotland are spectacular to look at. Absolutely immersive.
I did take issue with the film’s beginning. The first ten minutes opens with Abrahams’ funeral in London, 1978, then jumps to 1924 as a student writes in his journal recalling the team’s experience and so then the narrative moves back to 1919, only to wrap up with the funeral again before the closing credits. Why so much work with these albeit brief time jumps? They carried no impact. Why not simply begin in 1919 and move forward through time?
Chariots Of Fire has always been on my bucket list to catch. It’s a necessary film to see for devoted film buffs due to its accomplishments in technicality and score plus art direction. As well, it is an educational experience in British history, despite the liberties the film takes.
I recommend the picture, but I also forewarn to have patience and strict attention to its narrative. There’s a lot of dialogue and information contained within, Hudson is passionate with slow edits of running scenes and hurdle jumps, for his method of dramatic impact and excitement. All I suggest is to be prepared to sit for what will feel like a good long while. Try to avoid any interruptions (turn your phone off). You’ll need to pay attention where the film carries you from one scene and storyline to the next.