Chariots of Fire: 30 Years

Chariots of Fire: 30 Years April 10, 2011

Last month, Chariots of Fire turned thirty. It’s a little hard to believe that the greatest film ever made is that young. With a few exceptions, cinema’s finest moments came considerably earlier.

Chariots of Fire was one of the exceptions. And the reason is that its makers understood what it meant to craft a film that was at once full of truth and full of power. Surprisingly, it struck a resounding chord with film audiences, and it captured four Oscars (including Picture, Screenplay, and Music for Vangelis’ immortal score), with three more nominations.

I wonder whether such a film could win Oscars today. But suffice it to say that we could use many more like it. Just ask yourself this question: When was the last time you saw something billing itself as a “Christian” film that was truly great? I don’t mean good, I mean great. I mean timeless. Myself, I cannot think of any.

The genius of Chariots was that the Christian elements arose naturally from the storyline. They were neither repressed nor forced forward in an artistically awkward way. They were simply there. The result was a film that can legitimately be regarded as a “Christian” film without artificially assuming the label at the expense of excellence.
I can say it no better than scriptwriter Colin Welland, so I will let his words do the rest:

The great thing about Chariots was we didn’t ever dream it was going to be the success it was. That wasn’t the purpose—to make an Oscar-winning film. The purpose of everybody in the film was to make it right and make it true.

And now it seems fitting to help my readers relive a few of the movie’s finest moments. Sorry guys—I couldn’t pick just one. I could embed them, but I don’t want to slow things down, so I’ll put in links instead. First, Eric Liddell’s classic sermon in the rain (penned by Ian Charleson himself because he was unhappy with the script he had been handed and wanted to make it better). Second, the unforgettable scene where Eric has refused to run in the Sunday events and instead reads in church from Isaiah 40, while we watch his teammates and their competitors exhaust themselves on the track.

And finally, the final race, for which I believe no words are needed. All right, I said I would try to avoid embedding, but I cannot resist:

Happy birthday Chariots. Something tells me we won’t see your like again.

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  • Well, you don’t have off-topic posts. So I’ll let you enjoy this one here…
    I’m more word-conservative than the author, really, or just less familiar with new usages.
    I picked this up off the A.Word.A.Day email. 😉

  • I don’t, but if you’re making the first comment, and it’s COMPLETELY unrelated, then I’d prefer an e-mail if you’re able to get in touch with me. 🙂

  • OK, good idea. I could have done a comment on one of Daniel’s off-topic threads, I guess. 🙂

  • A Rediscovered Favorite
    Last week I watched Chariots of Fire for the first time in many years. Although I had seen it several times I was unsure I would appreciate it as much now.
    Upon reviewing it, however, I was struck by it all over again, perhaps even more so than before.
    This iconic piece of film making remains timeless 30 years on, which is a benefit of a period film, (or almost entirely period film). It is profoundly moving with its landmark screenplay, crack cast, stunning camera work, and, of course, that groundbreaking score.
    It certainly tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of America in the early 1980’s. And upon seeing it again years later this blogger now also considers Chariots of Fire the greatest film ever made.
    Sadly, however, it is difficult to imagine its Christian message would be embraced in the same manner in America today, let alone receive its well-deserved Oscars from the Hollywood community.
    Nonetheless, it will always have its place in film history for younger generations to discover for themselves.
    Thank you for your excellent post.

  • You’re welcome! We are apparently of exactly the same mind.

  • Indeed.
    I’d like to suggest The Making of Chariots of Fire and Chariots of Fire Reunion on YouTube, in case you have not seen them already. Both offer fascinating accounts of how The Almighty clearly had His hand on the making of the film. Quite extraordinary.
    Looking forward to more of your posts. The one on Focus is extremely interesting. We are of the same mind in more ways than one.

  • Yes, both fascinating! There are some amazing stories there. One of my favorites is the account of how they went to shoot the opening scene, but some sand got into the camera lens and forced them to postpone it. But the next day, all the weather conditions were MUCH better for the look they wanted.
    Glad you liked the Focus post as well. I post mostly about southern gospel music, but since I’m interested in a wide array of topics, I try to keep some variety going.