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Chariots of Fire (re-release)

9/10

Stars: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell, Ian Holm, Sir John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson, Nigel Davenport, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige, Dennis Christopher, Brad Davis, Patrick Magee, Peter Egan, Struan Rodger, David Yelland, Yves Beneyton, Daniel Gerroll, Jeremy Sinden,
Gordon Hammersley, Andrew Hawkins, Richard Griffiths, John Young, Benny Young, Yvonne Gilan

Director: Hugh Hudson

A few weeks ago the happily easy-to-forget athletics drama Fast Girls (coached by ‘Team Cliché’?) attempted to cash in on the forthcoming Olympic Games but deservedly failed to reach the winning line.

It’s 31 years since Hudson’s sports biopic won gold at the box-office and with it four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay for Colin Welland (who then proceeded to jinx subsequent British Oscar hopes by triumphantly exclaiming, “The British are coming!” They didn’t for quite a while).

Chariots of Fire still holds up remarkably well. For once, the Lottery funds that were used to fund the re-release were not wasted.

The fact-based storyline follows devout Scottish Christian Eric Liddell and Jew Harold Abrahams who suffers from inherent anti-Semitism while an undergraduate at Cambridge’s Gonville and Caius Colleges as they strive and ultimately succeed at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

Welland and director Hudson take their time to establish character and to tell the story without any major elisions and the film benefits immensely from this approach. So, too, does the casting of (then) relatively unfamiliar faces to play the key protagonists. Charleson as Liddell and Cross as Abrahams are ideally cast, Havers makes the most of his opportunities as a fellow athlete while Holm’s Italian-Arab athletic coach is a prime example of British-foreign character acting.

Gielgud as the Master of Trinity College imperiously waves the flag for deliberately larger-than-life British ‘luvvie acting’ at its most stagey, as does Griffiths who chews the scenery to a tasty pulp as the Head Porter of Abrahams’ college. The cast is large and largely apt. And, providing you’re lucky and blink at the right moment, you’ll miss Ruby Wax.

Key scenes still work, notably the athletes’ run along a beach accompanied by Vangelis’ now classic score. Period detail is good (the costumes won an Academy Award) and to the film’s considerable credit, I found it still a winner all the way. (While it’s a British film, the end credits on the print I saw credited the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – weird or what?).

Alan Frank

UK 1981. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour (unspecified).
123 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 12 Jul 2012