‘Chariots of Fire’ is another sports film that I feel doesn’t quite achieve all it should. It’s much better than ‘Rocky’ that came in further down the list, but it’s still not one of the better Academy Award winners as I think it has some major flaws.
The film tells the tale of British runners in the 1924 Olympic Games, and essentially about their religions. Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is Jewish and wants to escape prejudice. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleston) is a devout Scottish Catholic and wants to win for God. Whereas these issues are touched upon, I don’t feel that they are dealt with in enough detail. We never see the prejudice that Abrahams encounters or why he decides to run rather than enter any other sport, and likewise, we are never sure why Liddell believes that God wants him to run. Because of this, as a viewer, we never get to really know the characters and that really does prevent the film being elevated to loftier heights.
I see the above as the fault of the direction and scripting rather than from the acting. The two lead actors handle their roles well and are backed up by a throng of high quality British actors (Nigel Havers, Ian Holm, John Gielgud) whom I actually wanted to see more of. Although the film is long, I felt that some of the scenes were wasted and could have been used to further explore the leading and supporting characters.
I think that because I felt the issues behind the characters were not explored in enough detail and I didn’t feel that I knew the characters well enough, I didn’t really care about the outcome of the race. This leads me to my next problem with most sports films. Generally they tell you all about one competitor and you are expected to get behind that person/team and will them to beat others who may very well have just an important reason for wanting to win. For me that doesn’t really hold up.
The thing that the film is most famous for, perhaps, is the score by Vangelis. The score is undeniably powerful and emotional and I do not deny that he deserved his Academy Award for the score. But I have a slight problem with this as well. The film is set in the 1920s. Everything else about this film tries to be as true to the era as possible: the costumes, language etc, so why on earth couple this with an electronic score, rather than writing music suitable to the decade? The score is lovely, but not remotely appropriate.
In short, ‘Chariots of Fire’ is a film with some merits, but one that I feel will appeal more to sports fans than lovers of great cinema, due to some fairly significant flaws.