Rating: 2½ stars (out of 4)
Chariots of Fire (1981): Dir. Hugh Hudson. Written by: Colin Welland. Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, Nigel Havers, and Nicholas Farrell. Rated PG for brief language. Running time: 124 minutes.
Most people will recall Chariots of Fire as “that film where a bunch of British dudes run across a beach.” Alas, that’s about as far as the film’s legacy goes, even as it endeavored to portray the triumph of British sprinters in the 1924 Olympics.
From humble beginnings, two young men learn to discover the joy of running even as they possess different motivations. Harold Abrahams runs as a means to combat the Anti-Semitism he faces on a regular basis, while Eric runs for what he believes to be a high cause: “If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”
As a film about sprinting, the races are impressively shot and choreographed, even if slow-motion plays a major factor in their recreation. For anyone who has done anything vaguely athletic, the film captures the hard work, glory and defeat of physical competition. And it benefits from seasoned performances from Ian Charleson as Liddell and Ian Holm (hello, Bilbo!) as Abrahams’s trainer. A scene where Holm punches a hole through his pork-pie hat is almost worth the price of admission.
But the film falters when it comes to investing us in these driven individuals. The conflicts of both men come off as rather silly—we can’t empathize with their plights, because the film never wants to get its hands dirty. Liddell’s conflict with his sister, who wants him to fully devote himself to missionary service, never develops beyond a total non-issue. We get some definite pot-shots at British nobility, but the’re pure caricatures. Not to mention a somewhat laughable synth score, which is sure to remind you it’s the 80’s.
Unfortunately, director Hudson has fashioned a pedestrian rendering of intriguing subject matter. It’s interesting as an artifact of 80’s, in all its cheesy British glory.
Next film: Gandhi, 1982