Chariots of Fire (1981)

 ●  English ● 2 hrs 4 mins

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The story, told in flashback, of two young British sprinters competing for fame in the 1924 Olympics. Eric, a devout Scottish missionary runs because he knows it must please God. Harold, the son of a newly rich Jew runs to prove his place in Cambridge society. In a warmup 100 meter race, Eric defeats Harold, who hires a pro trainer to prepare him. Eric, whose qualifying heat is scheduled for a Sunday, refuses to run despite pressure from the Olympic committee. A compromise is reached when a nobleman allows Eric to compete in his 400 meter slot. Eric and Harold win their respective races and go on to achieve fame as missionary and businessman/athletic advocate, respectively.
See Storyline (May Contain Spoilers)

Cast: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

Crew: Hugh Hudson (Director), David Watkin (Director of Photography), Vangelis Papathanassiou (Music Director)

Genres: Drama, History

Release Dates: 30 Mar 1981 (India)

Tagline: This is the story of two men who run...not to run...but to prove something to the world. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals...Except their honor.

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Did you know? Director Hugh Hudson originally wanted Vangelis' 1977 tune "L'Enfant", from his 1979 'Opera Sauvage' album, to be the title theme of the film, and the beach running sequence was actually filmed with "L'Enfant" playing in the background for the runners to listen and pace to. Vangelis, however, finally convinced Hudson he could create a new and better piece for the film's main theme - and when he played the new and now-familiar "Chariots of Fire" theme for Hudson, it was agreed the new tune was unquestionably better. But the "L'Enfant" tune still made it into the film: When the athletes reach Paris and enter the stadium, a brass band marches through the field, and first plays a modified, acoustic performance of "L'Enfant". Vangelis's electronic "L'Enfant" track eventually was used prominently in the film The Year of Living Dangerously (1982). Read More
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as Harold Abrahams
as Eric Liddell
as Aubrey Montague
as Sybil Gordon
as Jackson Scholz
as Jennie Liddell
as Henry Stallard
as Charles Paddock
as Sam Mussabini
as Master of Trinity
as Master of Caius
as Lord Birkenhead
as Lord Andrew Lindsay
as Duke of Sutherland
as Head Porter-Caius College
as Sandy McGrath


Assistant Director


Executive Producer
Associate Producer
Production Manager




Screenplay Writer

Camera and Electrical

Director of Photography


Music Director


Sound Mixer
Sound Editor


Casting Director

Costume and Wardrobe

Costume Designer


Makeup and Hair

Film Type:
Feature Film
Spoken Languages:
Colour Info:
Sound Mix:
Frame Rate:
24 fps
Aspect Ratio:
1.85:1 (Flat)
This is the story of two men who run...not to run...but to prove something to the world. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals...Except their honor.
With Wings on their Heels and Hope in their Hearts
Two men chasing dreams of glory!
In the Mikado scene, the three women singing are barefoot and wearing flip-flops, not the traditional Japanese sandal with white socks.

The note that Jackson Scholz hands to Eric Liddell at the Olympics is addressed to Mr. Liddel (only one "L" at the end.)

In 1924, the future Edward VIII was Prince of Wales. At the meeting between "the committee" and Eric Liddell, Lord Birkenhead calls him "David". Some have assumed that this is a goof because he is played by David Yelland, but in fact the prince was known to his friends and family as David.

After the Olympic flag is raised, the sixth verse of the French national anthem is sung. The first, fifth, and sixth verses are the most commonly sung verses of the Marseillaise.

Before the 400 m race, the crowd can be heard chanting "U-S-A!" Although some have believed this to be an anachronism, it was in fact a common cheer for American teams at international sporting events in the early 20th century. For example, in Leni Riefenstahl's documentary 'Olympia', American spectators are heard using the "U-S-A!" chant to cheer on Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In the first race between Liddell and Abrahams the runner in the first lane (runner #6) is actually winning the race at the finish line and pulls up to ensure that Liddell wins.

The fictional Lord Lindsay and the real Aubrey Montague are shown attending Harold Abrahams memorial service in 1978. In reality Aubrey Montague died on 30th January 1948 and so could not actually have been present.

Early in the film (at about 10 minutes in) the narration says "Thursday October the tenth, 1919...". That date was in fact a Friday that year.

Factual Mistake
The Parade of Nations is completely out of order. The US team is shown first, then the British team, then the French team (immediately preceded by Cuba). The official report of the Eighth Olympiad indicates that the Parade of Nations took place in French alphabetical order, beginning with South Africa (l'Afrique du Sud). Greece would not lead off the parade until 1928.

Factual Mistake
At the beginning of the Scotland vs. France match, the "Marseillaise" has been edited and is not sung in its original words and music.

Factual Mistake
Some historical details (some minor, some not) have been altered for the sake of the narrative. We're inclined towards leniency.

Errors in Geography
(at around 30 mins) Just before Abrams and Montague register at the Porters' Lodge of "Caius College, Cambridge 1919" their taxi is seen driving along a street and stopping at "the" College entrance. The street is Trinity Lane at the back of Caius College and the entrance is not that of Caius College but of Trinity Hall. Even the Trinity Hall crescent can be seen above the entrance.

Errors in Geography
In the first Cambridge scene, set in 1919, passengers are seen on the railway station's footbridge. In fact, pressure from 19th century Cambridge University leaders opposed to railways led to special conditions being imposed on the station before it was constructed, and one of these was that it must have no footbridges; although one was added later, it was demolished again in 1863 and since then the station has had level access to all platforms. In 2011 work began on a second platform which will be connected to the original platform by a pedestrian bridge.

Crew/Equipment Visible
Just before the group of people enter the ball where the Prince of Wales is, we can see the camera and the camera man's shadows in the back of the lady in light green dress (the last one going inside). And the guy in the right side of the shot is looking at the camera too.

Before the last race Scholz gives a piece of paper to Lidell with a Bible quote, which he holds in his left hand. This piece of paper disappears during the race and reappears at the finish line.

When Eric Liddell is in the locker room getting ready, before going over to wish Abrahams luck, the camera is in a close up on him. He walks past a row of showers and the man in the final stall is seen facing the camera and holding a towel. The angle then switches to a far away shot and the man is now naked, showering with his back to the camera.

Eric momentarily loses the crumpled paper from his hand during the 400m race at the Olympics.

When Colonel John Keddie meets Sam Mussabini, the cane in Keddie's hand jumps from his right hand to his left, so that his right hand is free to shake Mussambini's

Character Error
At the end of the montage "He is an Englishman" Harold is cheered for by the audience, presumably as the soloist. But the solo from HMS Pinafore is for the boatswain, and Harold is dressed in superior officer's clothes.

Audio/Video Mismatch
On the boat to France, Abrahams is seen supposedly playing the piano, but the notes we see him strike bear no resemblance to the music we hear.

A five-striped red-yellow-blue-white-black flag is shown flying next to the US flag in the stadium. Although this is the correct flag for the Republic of China in 1924, China did not participate in the Olympics until 1932.

When Eric and Jennie Liddell talk on the hill in Edinburgh, a man jogs across the background in a 1970s/80s tracksuit.

A modern day EXIT sign can be seen over a door as they attend "The Mikado".

In the long shot of the departing boat that takes the athletes to France, there's a rather obvious radar antenna. Fortunately, it's not rotating.

In the 1924 the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was not yet using the set and costume designs seen in this film. These designs were executed by Charles Ricketts for the 1926 production of "The Mikado" at the Savoy Theatre.

Houses at the end of the track at the Scotland-France meeting have modern double-glazed windows.

In the 1920s, American flags had 48 stars.

In the 1920s, the Canadian flag was either the Union Jack or the Canadian Red Ensign. The red maple leaf flag was not introduced until 1965.
The real Eric Liddell found out about the 100 meter heat being held on a Sunday several months in advance of the Paris games. The British Olympic team was then able to adjust and fit him into the 400 meter race instead.

Colin Welland was researching Twice in a Lifetime (1985) shortly before the Oscars ceremony. When he entered the bar in the Pennsylvania steel town where he was carrying out the research, the regulars would call, "Watch your wallets, the British are coming!" This partly inspired Colin Welland's remarks at the end of his Academy Award acceptance speech.

In real life, Lord David Bughley (Lord Lindsay in the Film) was the first man to do the Great Court Run, not Harold Abrahams. This was changed, because David Puttnam was a socialist and did not want to show a Lord winning, and this is one of the reasons that Lord Burghley did not consent to let his name be used in the film.

Nigel Havers replaced first choice Patrick Ryecart as Lord Lindsay.

When the athletes are running off the beach (in reality West Sands at St Andrews in Scotland) they run towards a large red building clearly marked as a hotel. This is in fact Hamilton hall of residence, a student accommodation hall belonging to the University. The white picket fence that they jump borders the 1st and 18th holes of the Old course, famed for many a British Golf Open.

Besides the lead actors, most of the white-clad runners training on West Sands in St. Andrews during the title sequence are St. Andrews golf caddies.

The scene in which Harold Abrahams first sees Sybil Gordon, singing as Yum-Yum in "The Mikado", is based on either a mistake of fact or a deliberate alteration to make the story more romantic. In real life, the name of Abrahams' bride was Sybil Evers. Evers was a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, but while Sybil Gordon was its principal soprano, Sybil Evers was a minor soprano, who sang the role of Peep-Bo The Mikado, not the lead role Yum-Yum as it appears in the movie. Moreover, she only appeared with the D'Oyly Carte company for one season, 1930-31. Evers and Abrahams did not meet until 1934, 10 years after Abrahams' Olympic victory. They were married in 1936. (In real life, while he was a Cambridge student, Abrahams was engaged to a young woman, Christina McLeod Innes, but they broke up when he decided to devote himself full time to athletics and the Olympics.)

The scene in which Abrahams runs around the quad, was actually based on 1928 Olympic Gold medalist in the 400 meters, David Burghley who had ran around the great court at Trinity College in the time it took the clock to strike 12. Technically, Burghley was the second person to accomplish that feat, as someone had done it before in the 1890s, but then again it took 5 seconds longer back then for the clock to complete its toll.

The film's Best Picture Oscar is displayed at The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Yorkshire.

Jackson Scholz, who hands the note to Eric Liddell before the start of the 400m, had earlier won the gold medal in the 200m.

In real life, the text from the Bible was handed to Eric Liddell by a coach on the US team, not by Jackson Scholz. Colin Welland flew to Florida to obtain Scholz's permission in person for the artistic license.

Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry and Kenneth Branagh are among the crowd actors. Fry acted as shop steward (organiser) for the extras and managed in David Puttnam's words to "screw an extra pound a day out of me".

About six years after the film's release, Trinity College reenacted the quad dash with British Olympic athletes Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe taking part. Nigel Havers agreed to act as starter. At lunch after the event, the Dean confessed it had been a great mistake not to cooperate with the making of the film.

The Church service shown at the very beginning and end of the film is based on the actual funeral service of Harold Abrahams, who (as only hinted at in the movie) converted to Christianity later in his life.

Extras who appear as runners in the movie were paid three times as much as 'normal' extras. Due to sunny weather, sunburn proved to be rather problematic.

Parts of the movie were filmed over several days at Goldenacre in Edinburgh. Each morning, TV aerials had to be taken down for historical realism, then re-erected in the evening after shooting ceased. Inevitably, an overrun led to some friction with residents.

Though it is not mentioned in the movie, both Eric Liddell won bronze in the 200 meters, and Harold M. Abrahams a silver with the 4x100 meters relay team.

The movie was named as one of "The 20 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time" by Premiere.

Scenes of Eric Liddel courting a Canadian woman in Paris where cut out of the film. She can be seen in the church audience when Liddel is preaching and sitting next to Sandy McGrath during the final race. She is presumably a surrogate for Eric Liddel's real life wife Florence Mackenzie, who was from Canada. She and Liddel actually met years after the 1924 Olympics.

The producers intentionally added profanity to the film to avoid a G rating because they thought people would associate a G rating with a film for children.

Eric Liddell is not only remembered as a track athlete: he was also capped for the Scottish national rugby team a number of times.

Liddell was born in China, and died in China. His parents were missionaries there, and he returned as a missionary himself. During the Japanese occupation of China, he was taken into the Japanese Weihsien internment Camp, where he died.

Although it received a standing ovation when shown in competition at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, this movie was mercilessly savaged by the French critics, because it called the French "the frogs" and "an unprincipled lot." In order to prevent the negative critical response from hurting its international distribution, Roger Ebert lobbied the other American critics in attendance to award it the "American Critics Prize", which they did in a 6-5 vote. This marks the only time in the 60-year history of the festival that this award has been presented.

Ian Charleson himself wrote Eric Liddell's inspiring speech to the post-race workingmen's crowd. Charleson, who had been studying the Bible in preparation for the role, told director Hugh Hudson that he didn't feel the scripted sanctimonious and portentous speech was either authentic or inspiring. Charleson was uncomfortable with performing the words as scripted. It was decided that Charleson himself should write words that he was comfortable speaking. And thus came the most inspiring speech of the movie.

Although Harold Abrahams tells Sybil about his physician-brother, the film doesn't mention that he had another older brother (Sidney "Solly" Abrahams) who had competed in the 1912 Olympics as a long jumper, but did not win a medal.

The film does not mention that Harold Abrahams had earlier competed in the 1920 Olympics but was not very successful: He finished fourth in the 4x100 relay, 20th in the long jump and was eliminated in the quarter-finals of both the 100m and 200m races.

When the marching band enters the stadium at about 1:20 into the film, they are playing a band arrangement of "L'Enfant," one of the tracks from film composer Vangelis' 1979 album 'Opera Sauvage', in the original key.

Director Hugh Hudson originally wanted Vangelis' 1977 tune "L'Enfant", from his 1979 'Opera Sauvage' album, to be the title theme of the film, and the beach running sequence was actually filmed with "L'Enfant" playing in the background for the runners to listen and pace to. Vangelis, however, finally convinced Hudson he could create a new and better piece for the film's main theme - and when he played the new and now-familiar "Chariots of Fire" theme for Hudson, it was agreed the new tune was unquestionably better. But the "L'Enfant" tune still made it into the film: When the athletes reach Paris and enter the stadium, a brass band marches through the field, and first plays a modified, acoustic performance of "L'Enfant". Vangelis's electronic "L'Enfant" track eventually was used prominently in the film The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).

Nigel Havers' character, Lord Lindsay, was actually based upon Lord Burghley, who refused to cooperate with the filmmakers and would not allow his name to be used in the production. Upon seeing the completed film, however, Lord Burghley told the filmmakers that he regretted his earlier refusal to cooperate with the production.

In the scene where Harold Abrahams's coach is showing him Charles Paddock winning gold in the 1920 Olympics and why Jackson Scholz only got silver, the coach had it wrong. Scholz only came fourth and was not successful in winning silver. He did however win silver in 1924 at the Paris games.

Although it isn't mentioned, or even hinted at, in the film, it was Eric Liddell who in real life actually introduced Harold Abrahams to Sam Mussabini.

Eric Liddell's sister Jenny and her two daughters Rosemary and Joan were extras in the stands. They can be seen briefly in one shot of the film.

Kenneth Branagh was a "gofer" for the shoot, and is also in one scene as an extra. He is a Cambridge student in the "Society Day" crowds, wearing a grey knit vest with dark trim, a white shirt, and a dark tie. He's on screen for 20 seconds, starting at about 11:00.

Although Harold Abrahams won gold in the 100-meter dash at the 1924 Olympics, he finished dead last in the 200-meter final.

The "male military band" featured several women disguised with false mustaches.

Stephen Fry is in the film, singing in the chorus of the Cambridge 'H.M.S. Pinafore' production. He is the third face to the right of Harold Abrahams, singing "He Is An Englishman". He's on screen for about 35 seconds, starting at around 32:00.

David Puttnam arranged a screening of the film for Eric Liddles widow. Afterwards she said she loved the film - and that it fully captured her husbands character. However, she felt that the only thing they got wrong was that her husband was a much more graceful runner that was shown. Puttnam was astonished - he said the only thing they really knew about Liddle when making the film was his running style (from newsreel films of the era). The one thing he was fully confident that they had gotten right was the only thing Mrs. Liddle felt was wrong.

Eric Liddell's 400 meter victory in the 1924 Olympics was an Olympic record of 47.6 and excited the crowd with an unorthodox run. He ran the first 200 meters in 22.2 seconds, considered by track experts to be tactically foolish, considering it was only 0.3 seconds slower than his 200 personal record, but he actually increased his lead in the second half beating the competition by nearly a second.

Having completed his first draft, screenwriter Colin Welland was unable to conceive a title for the film beyond the somewhat uninteresting "Runners". The inspiration came one Sunday evening when Welland turned on the television to the BBC's religious music series Songs of Praise (1961) - featuring the stirring hymn "Jerusalem" (written by William Blake and set to music by C.H.H. Parry), its chorus including the words "Bring me my chariot of fire"; the writer leapt up to his feet and shouted to his wife Patricia, "I've got it, Pat! 'Chariots of Fire'!"

On the sign outside the Paris church where Eric Liddell delivers his sermon, screenplay author Colin Welland's name is listed above as giving the preceding service.

The lesson that Eric Liddell reads in the church in Paris is from Isaiah 40: 26, 29-31, King James version. It's interspersed with shots from the Games but is basically: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

Surprisingly, neither Jackson Scholz nor Charles Paddock was a member of the US gold medal winning 4x100m relay team. Eric Liddell was not a member of the British 4x100m relay team, either.

Lord Lindsay's character was actually based on an athlete, Lord David George Brownlow Cecil Burghley, who first competed in the 1924 Paris games without winning any medals, but he did win the 400 meter hurdles in the 1928 Amsterdam games.

Derek Pringle, who played the captain of the Cambridge University athletics team, was a professional cricketer with Essex and played for England. He is now a cricket journalist.

Producer David Puttnam was looking for a story in the mold of A Man for All Seasons (1966), regarding someone who follows their conscience; he felt sports provided clear situations in this sense, and happened upon the story by accident while thumbing through an Olympic reference book in a rented house in Los Angeles. Screenwriter Colin Welland took out advertisements in London newspapers seeking memories of the 1924 Olympics. Many athletes were still living, and Aubrey Montague's son sent him copies of the letters his father had sent home - which gave Welland something to use as a narrative bridge in the film.

The character Tom Watson in the film was in real life Arthur Porritt, future Governor-General of New Zealand and father of the environmentalist Jonathan Porritt. Indeed, two years after the Olympics, Porritt became Surgeon to the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII, aka Duke of Windsor), who meets Watson twice in the film, and subsequently to his brother George VI after Edward abdicated - performing lung surgery on the King following his diagnosis with cancer, his failing health attributed to the strains of unexpected kingship as well as his heavy smoking. The character of Andrew Lindsay was loosely based on Lord Burghley. Both men refused permission for their real names to be used, but confessed to regretting their decision after the film was successful.

Brad Davis and Dennis Christopher appeared as a favor to producer David Puttnam, waiving their fees, in order to attract finance from backers who wanted "marquee names."

The movie required many Edwardian costumes. 'When Reds' (1981), set in the same period, ran over time and over budget, it caused costumes pre-booked by "Chariots" to become unavailable.

Pupils of Eric Liddell's old school, Eltham College, were shown a special preview of the film at the ABC cinema at Eltham Well Hall, London.

French actor Michael Lonsdale is often credited with being in this film but there is no sign of him in the finished film

Extras in the Olympic crowd scenes were told to wear dark colours so they would not stand out. Extras who managed to wear actual Edwardian clothes were paid 20 pounds while those in normal dress were paid 10.

The funeral service at the beginning of the film was deleted when the film was shown on the In Flight Entertainment.

This is the first cinema film of Nicholas Farrell.

In the scene of Abrahams and Aubrey in the chapel at King's College Cambridge, the choir is singing the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652). This is the piece that was only allowed to be sung in the Sistine Chapel until Mozart famously wrote it out from memory at the age of 14.

The production team sought in vain a number of well known USA and UK performers for the tiny cameo role of Clare. Unknown Robin Pappas was cast in the end.