Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Movie Review: Chariots Of Fire (1981)
A majestic film inspired by the true story of youth seeking Olympic glory, Chariots Of Fire captures the single-minded determination required to grasp gold. The stories of Scotsman Eric Liddell and Englishman Harold Abrahams are entry points to a journey celebrating the athletic spirit as it strives for the ultimate goal.
Meanwhile, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) turns his attention from the Scottish national rugby team to competitive running. A devoutly religious man from a family of missionaries, Liddell believes that his incredible running abilities are a gift from God. This sets him on a collision course with his sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell), who resents Eric spending time training and away from his religious calling.
Director Hugh Hudson allows his cameras to soak in the lush locations depicting Cambridge (actually filmed at Eton College), the Scottish countryside, and Paris (filmed at the Oval in Merseyside). Chariots Of Fire is a period piece not afraid to breathe the fresh air by placing many scenes outdoors. Most famously, Hudson starts and ends the movie with the Great Britain team, including Abrahams and Liddell, on a beach training run filmed at St. Andrews, set to the magical music of Vangelis.
Hudson took a significant risk in his decision to use a modern synthesizer-driven soundtrack for events set in the 1920s, and the gamble paid off handsomely. The mixing of the old and the new allowed the story of athletes from a bygone era to span the generations and resonate with a modern audience, confirming the timeless appeal of the quest for sports glory.
Chariots Of Fire is perfectly paced, the competition scenes injecting regular punctuation marks to the more stately character-building interludes, and Hudson uses era-appropriate newspaper headlines to invoke the impact that the exploits of Abrahams and Liddell were having on society at large.
Traveling on different paths, and striving for different objectives, Abrahams and Liddell arrived at their moments of truth. As is often the case, the journey and motivations are more fascinating than the outcomes. Chariots Of Fire is a remarkable combination of grand spectacle and touching humanity.
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