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Film / Chariots of Fire

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

Chariots of Fire is a 1981 British drama directed by Hugh Hudson, starring Ben Cross and Ian Charleson.

The film is based on the Real Life track and field athletes Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, who competed for Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games. The film does have a large dash of Hollywood History, but was still impressive enough to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Original Screenplay (Colin Welland), Costume Design (Milena Canonero), and Original Score (Vangelis).

The film is largely remembered today for its title theme, which at the time was a bold departure from other period pieces which typically used orchestral scores.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    Harold: Foreign as a frankfurter
    Monty: And a kosher one, at that
    (Harold laughs)
  • Artistic License: Several scenes were altered from Real Life to help the drama.
    • Abrahams finished last in the 200 meters after winning gold in the 100. The movie puts the loss first to make the win more of a triumph.
    • Eric knew for months that a heat for the 100 meters was on a Sunday, and had long since arranged to run the 400 instead. This just wouldn't be that interesting to play out on film.
    • Sam Mussabini was allowed to train several runners for the Olympics.
    • Sybil was never the lead singer for an opera company. As a matter of fact, she seems to have been confused with a different Sybil, who was.
  • Assumed Win: Eric was used to always placing first in races. In one race, he started his victory pose, only to discover another racer got first place instead.
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  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Because there was literally no content in the film worthy of a harsher rating, a cricket match at the beginning was changed in the US release to a scene where Harold and Aubrey see some disfigured World War I veterans at a train station, with an utterance of the word "Shit".
  • Badass Preacher: Eric
  • The Big Race
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Lindsay is implied to be this. He's a very talented athlete, but never shows the same kind of dedication and self-abandonment that Eric and Harold do.
  • British Stuffiness: With some of the old men of Cambridge.
  • Cool vs. Awesome: Averted. Everything is seemingly set up to climax with Eric and Harold in the same race. But they never race each other.
  • Dark Horse Victory: Won the Academy Award despite the fierce competition of Reds and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mussabini at the Scottish Games.
    Colonel Kenny: Well, to battle. I hope you enjoy the games. (walks off)
    Mussabini: (after a few seconds) "Games"? You must be joking. I've seen better organized riots.
  • Determinator:
    • Harold: "I'll take them all on. One by one. And run them off their feet."
    • Eric: "Don't you believe it — his head's not back yet."
  • Determined Expression: Most of the runners look like this right before the starting pistol fires.
  • Heroic Resolve: Eric winning the race after being knocked down.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Eric. In his case it is better handled than many, for he is also nice, friendly, and makes you think that Good Feels Good.
  • Irony: The Prince who urged Eric to put country before God was Edward VIII who later flirted with fascism, and also disdained his royal duties at a time when British Patriotic Fervor was really needed to fight Nazi Germany.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Cribbed from William Blake, who in turn cribbed it from 2 Kings.
  • Notable Original Music: And this is turned into a meme, thanks to its use when someone is running in slow-motion.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lindsay has a flash of panic after his teammates wish him luck and leave him alone at the starting line, staring down the track he's about to run. It's replaced by a Determined Expression as he prepares to race.
  • The Oner: When they first arrive at Cambridge, the Freshmen go to an event where societies have tables set up and solicit for new members. The camera cruises through and around a throng of students singing and chatting for well over a minute.
  • Opposing Sports Team: Averted. The American track team are reasonably decent people.
  • Parodies of Fire: The Trope Maker, obviously.
  • Patriotic Fervor: A notably amiable form in which everyone was greeting each other's flags, etc. and assuming that they and everyone else were part of a True Companionship of nations. Mostly Truth in Television, since this was soon after World War I and more vitriolic forms of patriotic fervor were frowned upon.
  • Period Piece
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Harold gives this to the Cambridge Masters.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Eric is red, Harold blue.
  • The Roaring '20s: Largely averted, even for a British film.
  • Rule of Cool: Why is Lindsay training on hurdles with glasses brimming with champagne sitting atop each one?
  • Serious Business: For different reasons, running is a matter of life and death for the two leads. Lindsay, by contrast, takes it much less seriously.
  • Spinning Paper: Surely one of the last films to play this trope dead straight, as Spinning Paper recounts Liddell's refusal to run the 100m.
  • Take a Third Option: Running on Sunday or missing the race? Just run a different race.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Harold is the technician, Eric the performer.
  • Training Montage: Showing both Abrahams and Liddell. Harold trains on the track in Cambridge and Eric runs in the highlands of Scotland.
  • Unfortunate Implications: Subverted In-Universe twice. Aubrey and Sybil each accidentally seem to step on Abraham's toes about him being Jewish, but he laughs both times, knowing they mean no offense.
  • Video Credits: The major players who were in the opening/closing running-on-the-beach sequence are credited on-screen during the closing version.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A very simple version - the eventual fates of Eric and Harold are told via a text overlay during the final scene.
  • Writer on Board: One of the producers was a socialist, and didn't like that a lord had completed the quad race at Cambridge, so he changed it to Abrahams. This understandably didn't sit well with David Burghley, the real life runner, so he didn't allow his name to be used in the film. The completely original character of Lord Lindsay was written instead.
  • The X of Y
  • Ye Goode Olde Days : Lots of nostalgia. Practically fuels the show.


Example of: