Eunice does Chariots of Fire

“If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

The Scoop: 1981 PG, directed by Hugh Hudson and starring Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, and Nicholas Farrell

Tagline: This is the story of two men who run…not to run…but to prove something to the world. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals…Except their honor.

Summary Capsule: All that stuff in the tagline plus 1924 Olympic gold winners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.


Eunice’s Rating: More slow motion running than Baywatch.

Eunice’s Review:For those of you reading this in the future (it’s kinda like time travel!), while I’m writing this review the 2012 Summer Olympics are in full swing. I get a little obsessed every Olympiad, dragging along friends and family into my viewing and conversations, getting into Superman vs. Batman scale arguments on ‘the greatest athlete ever.’

I can remember the moment I became hooked: 1996 my family and I are eating in a sports restaurant with a huge TV, women’s gymnastics is on and Dominique Moceanu has just fallen on both her vaults then Kerri Strug falls. Everybody in the restaurant stops what their doing to see Kerri limping back to do her second vault and she sticks the landing! The restaurant explodes with cheering. While other sporting events have the ability to bring people together (or turn them into raving lunatics), there’s nothing like the Olympics. Where else can you find such a mix of sports, politics, religion, and showmanship? Where wars can be frozen or thawed? Where countries going through civil turmoil can unite behind an athlete? Where one person can revive or completely change a sport, or the person who comes in last can be celebrated as much if not more than the winner just because they finished? And, for me at least, it is the people that it all comes down to. People who spend years, decades even, training to do something as best they can for only a few seconds or hours. Driven by patriotism, personal glory, money, to break down barriers, to live the dream and be able to say “I’m an Olympian,” or as many reasons as there are individuals.

It wasn’t until the opening ceremonies that I realized I had never actually sat and watched this movie. That’s right, I finally watched the Oscar winning Chariots of Fire because of Rowan Atkinson, thus proving all things in the universe are intertwined and that, within six degrees, even I’m connected to Kevin Bacon.

Building up to, and including, the 1924 Paris Olympics, Chariots of Fire follows primarily two Great Britain running athletes, Scotsman Eric Liddell, and Englishman Harold Abrahams. Abrahams is a student at Cambridge and has a chip on his shoulder for being treated differently because of his Jewish heritage and wants to prove himself a true Englishman. Liddell wants to follow in his parents’ footsteps to become a Christian missionary to China, but believes he’s also meant to use his running for God’s glory. The movie begins with Aubrey Montague thinking back while in attendance at Abrahams’ funeral in 1978, and uses him as a kind of narrator. Back in 1919, a year after World War I, Aubrey and Harold meet at Cambridge. Becoming fast friends, it has them joining clubs, participating in athletics, and, for Abrahams, falling in love. At the same time Liddell, the son of Scottish missionaries to China, is a rugby and cricket player who has become known for being a really fast runner.

Abrahams says that running for him is an “addiction” and runs from “being Jewish,” while Liddell sees it as a gift but sometimes his running can be in conflict with his devotion to God. When they meet at a race both men have already created names for themselves, and Abrahams loses for the first time in his life. The rest of the movie is about the struggles the men have with the people around them as they prepare to go to the VIII Olympiad, and run for things like honor, faith, and country.

Chariots of Fire is one of those movies so ingrained into the cultural subconscious, that it’s almost as if we’re born knowing the title theme. I remember as a kid if we had a race, or if someone acted out slow motion running, one of us, all of us, would start singing that tune. In a way I’m glad it took so long. If I’d been younger I don’t think I would have appreciated the movie as much as I did. Not from a cinematic stand point, or for an understanding of history, or the appreciation for the Olympics that I have now.

While Chariots is technically a sports movie, it’s more of a period drama (though it does take some dramatic license with history). It’s kind of hard to explain, because there is running and racing shown, training montages, etc., but it never really focuses on that stuff, the Olympics that the movie builds towards just kind of happen and the movie ends. The movie is more interested in showcasing the era -’20s: the clothes, cars, the Gilbert and Sullivan tunes- and what the games meant to the country at the time, kinda like Miracle or Seabiscuit.

Conflict in a sports movie usually comes from underdogs vs. pros (in this case the Americans), but the pros are never presented as eeeevil so much as more famous and polished. The real conflict comes from the racers themselves and the people who you’d think would be supporting them. Aubrey’s parents think his Olympic dreams are “silly,” Liddell’s sister is completely against his running as she sees it as a kind of temptation, and Abrahams’ girlfriend has a hard time with taking second place (no pun intended) behind the running and his college gives him a hard time for hiring a trainer, actually questioning his loyalty.

While I liked Chariots a lot, in terms of pace and tone, it has a very dated ’70s feel. Reminds me of The Conversation or The Sting. Can be a little slow compared to what we’ve become used to and with several, linear to the story, sudden leaps in events, it can make some parts feel disjointed. I think it’s better to go into the movie with an open mind, than with a ‘this won best picture’ mindset. The acting is extremely good and solid, with the cast going on to various degrees of fame later.

I think a lot of whether or not someone would like this movie depends on how they see sports. I think one of my friends summed it up nicely when, after watching a retrospective on an athlete, she turned and said, “Eunice, they’re not just games are they? They’re people’s lives.”

“Waldorf, the bunny ran away!” “Well, you know what that makes him -” “Smarter than us!”


  • The Parade of Nations is in the wrong order.
  • The show Harold first sees Sybil in is Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.
  • The real Eric Liddell found out about the 100 meter heat being held on a Sunday several months in advance of the Paris games. The British Olympic team was then able to adjust and fit him into the 400 meter race instead.
  • In real life, Lord David Bughley (Lord Lindsay in the Film) was the first man to do the Great Court Run, not Harold Abrahams. This was changed, because David Puttnam was a socialist and did not want to show a Lord winning, and this is one of the reasons that Lord Burghley did not consent to let his name be used in the film.
  • Eric Liddell’s 400 meter victory in the 1924 Olympics was an Olympic record of 47.6 and excited the crowd with an unorthodox run.
  • Won four out of seven Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture against Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Reds.
  • And here’s a link for the poster for the completely crazysauce 1912 Olympics poster that I found while writing this.

Groovy Quotes

Eric Liddell: You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you’re dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.

Reverend. J.D. Liddell: You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. Don’t compromise. Compromise is a language of the devil. Run in God’s name and let the world stand back and in wonder.

Eric Liddell: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

Harold M. Abrahams: If I can’t win, I won’t run!
Sybil Gordon: If you don’t run, you can’t win.

Lord Cadogan: Don’t be impertinent, Liddell!
Eric Liddell: The impertinence lies, sir, with those who seek to influence a man to deny his beliefs!

Lord Cadogan: Hear, hear. In my day it was King first and God after.
Duke of Sutherland: Yes, and the War To End Wars bitterly proved your point!

Duke of Sutherland: The “lad”, as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.
Lord Birkenhead: For his country’s sake, yes.
Lord Birkenhead: No sake is worth that, least of all a guilty national pride.

Harold M. Abrahams: You, Aubrey, are my most complete man. You’re brave, compassionate, kind – a content man. That is your secret, contentment. I am 24 and I’ve never know it. I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.

Harold M. Abrahams: Aubrey, I’ve known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Miracle
  • Madison
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer
  • Seabiscuit

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