Break out the bolly and boaters for this re-release of Hugh Hudson's beloved British sports movie that's aged about as well as a Jive Bunny album.
There's a theory floating around that Hugh Hudson's Chariots of Fire – AKA Last Night At the Proms: The Movie – is much misunderstood. It says that far from it being a unabashedly jingoistic celebration of effete, Jazz-age Cambridge ra-ras who're giving it their bally all for king and country, it actually – like Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' – sends subtle barbs towards the elite classes and their utter loathing for anything that its't a Union Jack, cream knitwear or Gilbert & Sullivan.
Yet while there are characters in the film who are clearly lined-up as the unenlightened, old imperial hate figures, specifically John Gielgud's Evil Dean, there can be no doubt that the film does ask us to fall in love with its daffy, boater-wearing luvvies, even as they manage to incorporate vast quantities of bubbly into their hurdling practice.
Like David Lean had been forced at gun-point to remake (premake?) Goldie Hawn's eighties gridiron farce, Wildcats, Chariots of Fire remains a musty relic of British prestige cinema whose spirit was recently exhumed in the form of Oscar darling, The King's Speech. It's still a handsome piece of high-gloss filmmaking which all-but-begs you to fall to your knees and weep into your milky tea/gin fizz, but the unalloyed bloody-nice-chapness of all the central characters, plus the quaint way in which it deals with “issues”, means that it's aged about as well as a Jive Bunny album.
Aside from it being a flag-draped celebration of the Olympic Games in all it's benign, nation-uniting glory, the film also chronicles the various ethical problems experienced by devout Scottish Christian, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), and English Jew, Harold Abrahams (Ben Abrahams), as they simply try to compete for their country. At times it comes across like a ribald but ham-handed lesson in GCSE religious studies, as Abrahams is 'hilariously' served up pigs trotters in a restaurant, and Liddell must decide whether he runs on the Sabbath.
One key element that looks ridiculous now is the purportedly iconic way in which Hudson photographs the running sequences. Maybe, back then, people did partake in the 100 yard dash while flailing their arms wildly and primal screaming their way to the finish line like they're in a state of prolonged sexual climax, but frankly it looks like a soppy slow-mo mechanism to allow the visuals to trade melodramatic blows with Vangelis's horrendous classical synth fusion score.
If you're a lover of quality, innovative British cinema, you'd be very hard pressed to see Chariots of Fire as anything close to a classic. If you're the type of person who baulks at the idea of keeping cheese in the fridge, then this one might be for you.
Would this have seen the light of day were the Olympics not rolling into town?
Lovable and rousing despite itself.
An odd, malformed antique that still manages to retain a certain surface-level charm.