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Classic Film Review: Chariots of Fire

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Worthy Winners 

The movie leaves little doubt. Being British, and personifying the British character – that’s a duty to higher principles above one’s self – everything that John Gielgud talks about, though his character be a soft anti-semite – ultimately trumps all other considerations. Naturally Abraham’s Judaism and Liddell’s devout Christianity present obstacles, but it’s all forgotten with the crack of the starting pistol. It’s little wonder American Academy voters loved this picture; identity politics, duty to the flag – they understand these things. For us, it’s perfect nostalgia: a proud, highly stratified society, overcoming its flaws to succeed, if only for a moment, in becoming the perfect vision of itself. What’s that? Raiders had a thousand times more colour and life? Archer, bring me my bow of burning gold!

Perhaps this earnest and mannered movie, full of mannequins and spent iconography, didn’t deserve that best picture statuette, but it succeeded in capturing the moment when athletics (yawn) moved from being the purview of committed amateurs, governed by “the values of the prep-school play yard” as Ben Cross would have it, to a professional occupation, opening it up to all the corporate nonsense we associate with it today.

Sure, man can run a full second faster over 100m then he could in 1924, but was it worth it? I’d be happy to trade that second for a return to something more modest; an institutional sideline, like the silly buggers society, that paid people in prestige and social connections. Sure, it would exclude ordinary people from sport but would that be such a bad thing? Perhaps they’d write a book instead. Or direct a movie. Though one that didn’t drop Ruby Wax on you without warning and was about half an hour shorter than this one, please.

Chariots of Fire is on limited re-release now. Check listings for details. Only those wearing trainers will be admitted.

Pages: 1 2 3

Director: Hugh Hudson

Country:  UK

Year: 1981

Running Time: 124 mins


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