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? The Church service at the very beginning and end of the film is based on the real funeral service of Harold Abrahams, who later converted to Christianity in his life. 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:
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!
The three women singing in the Mikado scene, are barefoot and wearing flip-flops, not the traditional Japanese sandal with white socks.

There is a spelling error in the note that Jackson Scholz hands to Eric Liddell at the Olympics as it is addressed to Mr. Liddel (only one "L" at the end.)

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

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

The crowd can be heard chanting "U-S-A!" before the 400 m race. 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.

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 in the first race between Liddell and Abrahams.

In reality Aubrey Montague died on 30th January 1948, however in the movie, The real Aubrey Montague and the fictional Lord Lindsay and are shown attending Harold Abrahams memorial service in 1978.

The narration early in the film says "Thursday October the tenth, 1919...". That date was in fact a Friday that year.

Factual Mistake
The US team is shown first followed by 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 hence making The Parade of Nations completely out of order.

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

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

Crew/Equipment Visible
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) just before the group of people enter the ball where the Prince of Wales is. And the guy in the right side of the shot is looking at the camera too.

Scholz gives a piece of paper to Lidell with a Bible quote before the last race , 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.

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

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

Character Error
Harold is cheered for by the audience at the end of the montage "He is an Englishman" , 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
Abrahams is seen supposedly playing the piano on the boat to France, but the notes we see him strike bear no resemblance to the music we hear.

A 5 striped red-yellow-blue-white-black flag is seen flying next to the US flag in the stadium. This is the correct flag for the Republic of China in 1924, However, China did not participate in the Olympics until 1932.

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

A modern day EXIT sign is visible over a door when they attend "The Mikado".

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

Modern double-glazed windows are seen in houses at the end of the track at the Scotland-France meeting.

American flags had 48 stars in the 1920s.

The Canadian flag was either the Union Jack or the Canadian Red Ensign in the 1920s. The red maple leaf flag was not introduced until 1965.
The 100 meter heat being held on a Sunday was known to the real Eric Liddell about 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.

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

Lord David Bughley (Lord Lindsay in the Film), not Harold Abrahams was the first man to do the Great Court in real life. 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.

Patrick Ryecart was the first choice for Lord Lindsay. He was replaced by Nigel Havers.

The athletes run towards a large red building clearly marked as a hotel when they are running off the beach (in reality West Sands at St Andrews in Scotland) . This is in fact Hamilton hall of residence, a student accommodation hall belonging to the University.

Apart from the lead actors, many of the white-clad runners training on West Sands in St. Andrews during the title sequence were St. Andrews golf caddies.

The scene where Abrahams runs around the quad, was actually based on 1928 Olympic Gold medalist David Burghley in the 400 meters.

The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Yorkshire displays the film's Best Picture Oscar.

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

Originally, the text from the Bible was handed to Eric Liddell by US team coach, not by Jackson ScholzIn. Colin Welland flew to Florida to take Scholz's permission in person for the artistic license.

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

Trinity College reenacted the quad dash with British Olympic athletes Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe taking part about 6 years after the film's release. Nigel Havers agreed to act as starter. The Dean confessed it had been a great mistake not to cooperate with the making of the film at the lunch after the event.

The Church service at the very beginning and end of the film is based on the real funeral service of Harold Abrahams, who later converted to Christianity in his life.

The 'normal' extras were paid only one-third of the extras who appear as runners in the movie.

Few of the movie parts were shot over several days at Goldenacre in Edinburgh. To ensure historical realism, each morning, TV aerials had to be taken down, then re-erected in the evening after shooting ceased.

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

Premiere named the movie "The 20 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time".

A sequence of Eric Liddel courting a Canadian woman in Paris were removed from the film. She can be visible amongst the church audience when Liddel is preaching and sitting next to Sandy McGrath during the final race. She is apparently 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.

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

Eric Liddell is not just remembered as a track athlete, he was also capped for the Scottish national rugby team a couple of times.

Liddell's birth and death place is 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.

In spite of Harold Abrahams telling 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.

Harold's participation in the 1920 Olympics is not mentioned in the film. 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.

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

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

The coach had it wrong 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. Scholz only came fourth and was not successful in winning silver. He did however win silver in 1924 at the Paris games.

It was Eric Liddell who in real life actually introduced Harold Abrahams to Sam Mussabini. However, this is not mentioned in the film.

Jenny, Eric Liddell's sister 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 is an extra for one scene and was a "gofer" for the shoot. 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. Starting at about 11:00, he's on screen for 20 seconds.

Harold Abrahams finished dead last in the 200-meter final in spite of having won gold in the 100-meter dash at the 1924 Olympics.

Many women disguised with false moustaches featured in the "male military band".

Stephen Fry is in the film on screen for about 35 seconds, starting at around 32:00, 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".

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.

Having finished his first draft, Colin Welland, the screenwriter was unable to conceive a title for the film beyond the somewhat uninteresting "Runners". The inspiration came from 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 shouted to his wife Patricia, "I've got it, Pat! 'Chariots of Fire'!"

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

Surprisingly, neither Charles Paddock nor Jackson Scholz 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.

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

Tom Watson in the film was in real life Arthur Porritt, future Governor-General of New Zealand and father of the environmentalist Jonathan Porritt.

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

Many Edwardian costumes for required for the movie. 'When Reds' (1981), set in the same period, ran over time and over budget, it caused unavailability of costumes pre-booked by "Chariots".

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

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

Extras in the Olympic crowd scenes were asked to wear dark coloured clothes in order to not look prominent. Extras who managed to wear actual Edwardian clothes were paid 20 pounds while those in normal dress were paid only 10.

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

This is Nicholas Farrell's first cinema.

The choir is singing the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) in the scene where Abrahams and Aubrey are in the chapel at King's College Cambridge, . 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 many well known USA and UK performers for the tiny cameo role of Clare. However, Unknown Robin Pappas was cast in the end.