Chariots of Fire
Film: Chariots of Fire 1981
Synopsis: (from the Chariots of Fire Wikipedia Page)
... based on the true story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice.
Clicking on characters in bold yields their Wikipedia page. (names not in bold or either fictional characters, amalgams, or historical characters without a Wikipedia page) I have included the Wikipedia pages for historic information. There are also sections in those pages that clarify the true biography from the depiction in Chariots of Fire. One example of this is the character Sybil Gordon. Sybil Gordon was an opera singer of that time and the film portrays Gordon as being the fiance of Harold Abrahams. However, Abrahams was never engaged to Sybil Gordon. He was engaged and then married another opera singing Sybil, Sybil Evers; they did not meet until 10 years after the 1924 Olympics. Talk about a Sybil dispute.
Clicking on actor/actress yields their IMDB page. In the 40 years since Chariots of Fire came out, several of these actors have passed away, which makes sense. Two of these actors have died this Summer, I have asterisked the 2 who passed this summer and placed links to their obituaries at the end of the cast list.
Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers)
Jennie Liddell (Cheryl Campbell)
Master of Trinity (John Gielgud)
Sandy McGrath (Struan Rodger)
Nominated for 7 Academy Awards and 10 British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA)
Won 4 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Screen Play, Best Costume Design, & Best Original Score) & 3 BAFTAs (Best Film, Best Editing and Best Costume Design)
Note : I had to choose how I wanted to chronicle these 15-minute segments. There is the wiki approach: a blow by blow scene by scene reenactment. I could do that, probably without even watching the film again. I've seen it that many times. There is what I call the Making of the Making of Titanic* approach. This is where I dredge up every anecdote I can find about the characters , the historical authenticity of the film, information about the actors, even the birth weight of anyone who ever watched the movie. Instead, I offer the HSD approach. I try to give information that whets your appetite for watching or re-watching the film, I make some, what I hope to be, humorous side comments while not spoiling the movie or majoring in minutia.
* A reference to a Mad About You Episode. Ellen DeGeneres appeared in that episode as a caterer. When Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser appeared on Ellen's show to promote the reboot of Mad About You, Ellen stated she had forgotten all about being on the show. Perhaps that was Helen who had forgotten that Ellen had been on the show. Either way, this entry is certainly an example of the making of the making of Titanic approach.
Segment 1 is approximately 1sixteen minute and 40 seconds as the ending scene dissolves into the beginning scene of segment 2 mid narration.
The movie begins at a funeral in 1978. Lord Andrew Lindsay, a composite character, portrayed expertly by Nigel Havers is giving the eulogy and says:
Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honour the legend. Now there are just two of us - young Aubrey Montague and myself - who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.
During this speech, we can see into the audience at the funeral and see that "young" Avery Montague is now ancient, as is Lord Lindsay himself. We are then transported back in time to (June 1924) and place as we watch one of the most visually, emotionally and musically brilliant opening credit scenes I have ever experienced. Our eyes see the British Olympic track team running on a beach. Their white shirts in stark contrast to the overcast, gloomy yet somehow inspirational panorama. Our ears hear the Academy Awarding winning Vangelis main title theme for the first time. In order our attention is focussed on on 4 runners: A young Avery Montague, who looks earnest, dedicated and still somewhat puzzled. This first impression informs the character of the part-time narrator to a tee. After Montague we get out first glimpse at young Lord Lindsay. His few seconds of screen time reveal his character accurately as well, a vibrancy, zeal and seemingly limitless passion for life. The last 2 runners are the stars of this drama, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.
The scene ends and we watch and listen as Avery Montague composes a letter to his mother a week before e the 1924 Summer Olympic Games. He writes and we are transformed back in time once again to 1919 Cambridge, where he is meeting Harold Abrahams for the first time at a railway station as they make their way to campus.
If this was the kind of post where I mentioned historical inaccuracies, I would mention now that Montague, while on the 1924 Olympic team with Abrahams, did not attend Cambridge with Abrahams. In fact, he did not attend Cambridge at all. So, several scenes in this movie featuring Abrahams and Montague together did not occur, or at least did not occur with Montague. Aren't you glad that this isn't that kind of post?
As Avery and Harold make their way to campus, we learn that they both run, Avery hate's losing and Harold's never lost. Next is a scene that reinforces a line in Montague's letter to his mother.
"Mind you, Harold has hardly changed at all, as intense as ever. Now as then having a go at anyone who gets in his way."
The first person who gets in his way is the head porter at his lodgings at Cambridge. Abrahams endures the porters impertinent and condescending manner, but once Harold signed in he rattles off this gem of a line.
"I ceased being called laddie when I took up the King's commission. Is that clear?".
As the Porter regains his footing and signs in Montague, we get our first glimpseof the anti-semitism that Harold combats through his running. The porter says thatwith a name like Abrahams we can be sure he won't be in the church choir.
We then see the vestiges of campus life at the beginning of a new term. A Freshman dinner a new student fair , a variety of extra curricular acrivities like Gilbert and Sullivan societies (The music of Gilbert and Sullivan acts as a 2nd soundtrack for the Cambridge part of the film), and an old campus tradition, the college dash.
Instead of chronicling the dash scene, I will say it is one of the first of many exquisitely choreographed and filmed running sequences. There is a dancelike quality to the running scenes.
It is important to note that the dash sequence introduces us to 3 important characters. First there is the 1919 incarnation of Lord Lindsay. He runs in the dash along with Abrahams. The sequence also introduces us to two stodgy college officials who serve as the Statler and Waldorf (the two old hecklers from the Muppets) chorus of the film. These characters demonstrate the systematic anti-Semitism of the era. As the race ends we are transformed from academic England to the Highlands of Scotland where we will begin the next installment of Breakfast Serials.