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.