Chariots of Fire is a gripping film that tells the true story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams as they compete in the Olympics.
Let’s look back at what’s indisputably the greatest film in history about running. Have you done your stretches?
10. It was nearly called Runners
After completing the first draft of the film, screenwriter Colin Welland had provisionally and reluctantly titled it ‘Runners’. Unsurprisingly, he found the title a little underwhelming.
However, watching an episode of the BBC worship program Songs of Praise, he heard the classic hymn Jerusalem and its famous proclamation to “bring me my chariot of fire.” Welland jumped up and shouted to his wife: “I’ve got it, Pat! Chariots of Fire!”
9. Harold Abrahams wasn’t the first to win the Great Court Run!
In spite of what we see depicted in the film, Harold Abrahams was not actually the first man to achieve completing the Great Court Run.
In truth, it was Lord David Burghley.
8. Burghley refused to have his name featured in the film because of its inaccuracies
- Credit: Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited
It’s rumoured that producer David Puttnam’s leftwing political views influenced the film pushing ‘Lord’ Burghley into second place in the Great Court Run.
Partly as a result of this change, Burghley refused to allow his name to be used, with his character becoming Lord Lindsay instead.
7. The Christian church service for the proudly Jewish Harold Abrahams is actually accurate
You may have noticed that the Church service featured at the start and end of the film for Harold Abrahams’ funeral is not a Jewish service, despite Abrahams’ Jewish heritage proving a central plot point.
This is because Abrahams converted to Christianity in later life, which is only vaguely hinted at on-screen.
6. Eric Liddell helped Abrahams to success
It’s not mentioned at all in the film, but in real life it was Eric Liddell who introduced athletics coach Sam Mussabini to Harold Abrahams.
Mussabini’s guidance was integral to the Abrahams’ success.
5. The filmmakers arranged a special screening for Liddell’s widow
- Credit: Store Norse Leksikon
When the film was made, producer David Puttnam arranged a screening of the film for Eric Liddell’s widow, who said that it captured the character of her husband perfectly and that she loved the film.
However, Liddell’s widow claimed her late husband was a far more graceful runner than depicted on-screen. This took Puttnam by surprise, as they’d meticulously studied newsreel footage to accurately capture Liddell’s running style.
4. Kenneth Branagh worked as an extra on the film
A young Kenneth Brannagh was involved in the making of the film as a “gofer,” the fancy film name for someone who takes coffee orders.
He also appears on-screen for 20 seconds as an extra.
3. Stephen Fry also features in the background
Kenneth Branagh was not the only future star to feature, as Stephen Fry also appears briefly in the background of the scene in which students sing “He is an Englishman.”
Fry was a student at Cambridge at the time of filming.
2. Liddell wasn’t just an accomplished track athlete
Eric Liddell is most famous as a track athlete, but what’s often overlooked is that Liddell was also an accomplished rugby player.
He played for the Scottish national team on a number of occasions.
1. It was the first British film to win Best Picture since Oliver!
Chariots of Fire was the first non-American film to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards since Oliver! in 1968. Colin Welland also took home the award for Best Screenplay, legendary costume designer Milena Canonero won in her category.
And, of course, Vangelis won Best Original Score.