Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

classic story of triumph over adversity gets a timely re-run

With London under starter's orders for the Olympics, Hugh Hudson's 1981 British Oscar-winning classic sprints back into selected cinemas before quickly passing the baton on to the DVD and Blu-ray formats.

Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is accepted to Cambridge University where he becomes the first man to complete the infamous Trinity Great Court Run flanked by fellow student Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers).

Weathering anti-Semitism from the masters, Abrahams pursues his love of athletics, which is challenged by Scottish runner Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), the son of missionaries, who races in the name of God.

In their first head-to-head, Liddell beats Abrahams, who then accepts an offer from professional trainer Mussabini (Ian Holm) to refine his technique and gain up to half a second on his rivals.

As the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris beckons, Abrahams and Liddell are pitted against each other in the 100m, but when the Scot learns that his heat is set to fall on a Sunday, he refuses to race on the Sabbath, throwing the entire preparations of the British team into disarray.

From the unmistakable opening strains of Vangelis's soundtrack, Chariots Of Fire stirs the soul with its rousing depiction of young athletes battling against the class system, prejudice and their own physical limitations to chase glory on a global stage.

Hudson's film certainly looks dated - even in this digitally restored print made possible by £150,000 in funding from the British Film Institute - but the excellent quality of the performances and Colin Welland's script is undeniable.

Chariots Of Fire still leaves a patriotic lump in the throat without resorting to cheap cliches, which have become shorthand for the genre in recent years.

Cross and Charleson both deliver stirring performances and are supported by an excellent ensemble cast - a film that's certain to get your pulse racing and whet your Olympic appetite.

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