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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chariots of Fire is a 1981 movie that tells the true story of British Olympic runners. It has very little mature content -- drinking and smoking mostly -- but may be too hard to follow for younger fans of sports movies. The two runners it features are worth discussing with kids, though. One runner is Jewish and fights prejudice through competition. The other is a Scottish missionary and refuses to run an Olympic race on Sunday, even when the Prince of Wales tries to appeal to his love of country. As a side note, a lone Lipton Tea billboard shows up along a racetrack -- a great reminder of just how littered with advertising most sporting events are today.
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What's the story?
CHARIOTS OF FIRE depicts the true story of two athletes who ran in the 1924 Olympics: Jewish Cambridge student Harold (Ben Cross), and Scottish missionary Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson). On Abrahams' first day at Cambridge, new students are encouraged to achieve for themselves and for those who were lost in World War I, which has just ended. Abrahams is a bit arrogant, but finds friends and impresses everyone by being the first to run the entire quad within the 12 strokes of the clock at noon. Liddell is deeply committed to missionary work, but sets the work aside to become a great runner. Abrahams is devastated when he loses to Liddell, but both men make the Olympic team. There is a crisis when Liddell's event is scheduled for a Sunday, because he will not run on the Sabbath. But Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) graciously allows Liddell his place in a different event, "for the pleasure of seeing you run." Both athletes face difficult choices and much opposition. One uses a coach, in defiance of tradition and expectations. The other goes against the wishes of his sister, and even defies the Prince of Wales.
Is it any good?
This film is wonderfully evocative of the time and place, with superb performances. Chariots of Fire shows us the source of the runners' determination: for one, a need to prove his worth to himself and the society that discriminates against him; for the other, a way of connecting to God. The film deservedly won the Oscars for best picture, screenplay, costume design, and music.
Both men must take a stand in order to realize their athletic dreams. Abrahams deals with prejudices against his religion, while Liddell confronts the conflict between the dictates of his religion and the requirements of the sport (including the entreaties of the heir to the throne) when he is asked to compete on the Sabbath.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why running was so important to the men in Chariots of Fire. Was it different for different athletes? Why does Harold Abrahams think of quitting when he loses to Liddell?
Why doesn't Eric's sister want him to race? Why does he race despite her objections?
Why don't the teachers at Harold Abrahams' school think it is appropriate to have a coach? Would anyone think that today?
- In theaters: September 25, 1981
- On DVD or streaming: February 1, 2005
- Cast: Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers
- Director: Hugh Hudson
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: August 1, 2020
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