Chariots of Fire (1981)

Hugh Hudson’s exhilarating account of the struggle by Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell to compete on their own terms at the 1924 Olympics seemed to herald a new highpoint in British cinema.

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“Like many great films, Chariots of Fire takes its nominal subjects as occasions for much larger statements about human nature.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1981

“The British are coming!” screenwriter Colin Welland famously proclaimed, Oscar in hand. While this sporting saga ultimately proved not to herald a British celluloid renaissance, it certainly flew the flag for the industry’s craftsmanship and acting talent. Although perhaps remembered as a jingoistic celebration of gritty Brits triumphing over much-fancied Americans, it’s actually a portrait of social outsiders making their contribution to the greater national good – Ian Charleson’s God-fearing Scot, who refuses to run on the Sabbath, and Ben Cross’s Jewish sprinter.

First-time director Hugh Hudson was – like Alan Parker and Ridley Scott before him – recruited by producer David Puttnam from the advertising world, his skilled commercial aesthetic exemplified by the striking juxtaposition of 1920s athletes and Vangelis’s modern electronic score.

After this promising debut, Hugh Hudson’s film-directing career never recovered from the disaster of his third feature, the epic Revolution (1985).

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