Back Seat Producers Season 07 Shows

BSP Episode 237: Chariots of Fire

Release date:  3/30/1981

20th Century Fox

Directed by

  • Hugh Hudson

Produced by

  • David Putnam

Written by

  • Colin Welland


Harold Abrahams

  • Ben Cross

Eric Liddell

  • Ian Charleston

Ian Holm

  • Sam Mussabini


The hosts review:

Darrell starts off by mentioning the Chariots of Fire representation in the opening ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics… featuring the one and only Mr. Bean!

Tony felt that the music, even being 30 years old, sounded dated even for its time, specifically the synthesizer.  Darrell thought that the music worked well, and was surprised that they used modern music for a movie that takes place from 1919-1924.  He then went on to talk about how the Chariots of Fire theme is integral to the movie, how it immediately conjures up that iconic image of men running on the beach.

Darrell enjoyed the movie and found it to be a true “drama.”  He appreciated the movie a lot more now than he did years ago, as did Tony.  Tony, though, didn’t think it was as fantastic as critics proclaimed it to be, and found the dialogue “clunky.”  Darrell said that a lot of the dialogue was based on a journal by one of the characters in the movie, and Tony concurred that it did sound like written word and didn’t always flow naturally.  He found that it almost appears to be a “talking down” to the audience.

Tony also brought up how the anti-Semitism and racism was apparent, even in a very polite manner, from the onset of the movie.  There were constant little snips at and about Abrahams Jewish heritage.  There were also offhand comments regarding Abrahams personal coach, Mussabini, who was of Italian and Arab descent.

The hosts also discussed the different reasons and passions behind each man needing to run.  Abrahams runs to win and Liddell runs for God, and how each of them faced hurdles (no pun intended… I think) to accomplish their goals of Olympic gold.

They talk about how in most other sports-themed movies, there is usually a big build-up to the main sporting event.  In this movie, the race was almost an anti-climactic moment, an after-thought.  The “meat” of the story was in getting to the Olympics, in each man’s journey and struggle to get there.

They found it almost amusing to compare the opening ceremony scene of the 1924 Olympics to the grand spectacle of the 2012 Olympics.

Darrell mentioned that he wondered what Liddell did when he returned to China as a missionary:

Liddell’s first job was as a teacher at an Anglo-Chinese school for wealthy Chinese students.  The belief at the time being that by teaching these wealthy children, they would grow up to be influential figures and promoters of Christianity in China.

He also competed periodically in local and North China championships.

In 1943, he was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp when the Japanese took over the mission station he was serving.  He died in February of 1945, still in the internment camp, of an inoperable brain tumor.  In his final letter to his wife (who had returned to her native Canada with their children when the Japanese had become aggressive toward China), he told her that he had suffered a nervous breakdown.

Trivial bits ‘n pieces:

Most of the runners training on West Sands in St. Andrews during the title sequence were St. Andrews golf caddies.

Chariots of Fire was named as one of “The 20 Most Overrated Movies of All Time” by Premiere.

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.

Abrahams also competed in the 1920 Olympics: he finished fourth in the 4×100 relay, 20th in the long jump and was eliminated in the quarter-finals of both the 100m and 200m races.

Kenneth Branagh was a gofer and an extra 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. He’s on screen for 20 seconds, starting at about 11:00.

Stephen Fry is also an extra 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.

Awards won by Chariots of Fire:

1981 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Original Music Score, Writing Original Screenplay and Costume Design)

1981 Cannes Film Festival (Best Supporting Actor/Ian Holm, Prize of Ecumenical Jury-Special Mention/Hugh Hudson

1981 BAFTA (Best Film)

Your Producers for this episode were:

  • Tony
  • Darrell

This episode was recorded: 8/1/2012


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