Film4: Tuesday 24 November, 4.00pm
Two British athletes prepare for the 1924 Olympics. Ben Cross overcomes academia’s anti-semitic prejudice, Ian Charleson runs for the glory of God in Colin Welland’s Oscar-winning celebration of drive and determination in the pursuit of excellence under the gaze of establishment hypocrisy. For playing PC Ray Graham to Brian Blessed’s Fancy Smith in Z Cars, for being the sympathetic teacher Mr Farthing in Kes, for being Willie in Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, for Play for Today’s Leeds United, for writing Yanks and Chariots of Fire, Welland will be long and fondly remembered.
Despite a clumsy double-flashback beginning (echoes of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia), Chariots of Fire is a memorably stirring film, spurred on by Vangelis’ synthesizer score. A deliberate musical choice, to distance the film from stuffy period pieces – director Hugh Hudson didn’t want it to be a heritage film. (Cliff Martinez’s startling electronic score for Steven Soderbergh’s TV series The Knick serves much the same purpose.)
In the year of Warren Beatty’s much fancied Reds, not to mention Spielberg’s monster hit Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Academy loved it: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Music (the first Oscar for a synthesizer-based soundtrack)… “The British are coming! The British are coming!” yelled a triumphant Welland from the podium. Passing through as usual, as it turned out, although it’s true that Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi somehow bested ET at the 1982 Academy Awards. Even Sir Dickie, ever the gentleman, was sheepish about that.