Good Sports

On the beach …….. Chariots Of Fire is back this summer

I suppose it was inevitable.  Over 30 years after its original release, Chariots of Fire is coming back – especially for the Olympics.

Those of us of a certain age will remember the iconic running sequence on the beach, complete with Vangelis’s immortal music.  Those of a younger disposition will now understand what The Sun’s TV commercial is all about – and why Nigel Havers is in it.

This was a film about two British heroes of the 1924 Olympics, who overcame personal obstacles to win gold.  Eric Liddell stood by his religious principles and refused to run on a Sunday and Harold Abrahams took the controversial – and decidedly un-gentlemanly – step of employing a trainer.  It was a thoroughly British affair.  The cast was led by Ben Cross, the late Ian Charleson, Ian Holm and a pre-Corrie Nigel Havers.  It was written by Colin Welland, directed by Hugh Hudson – and, to everybody’s surprise, scooped the Oscar for Best Picture.  Cue Colin Welland again ………….

There are other films that feature the Olympics: for example, the clutch of minor ones about the talented but erratic American runner Steve Prefontaine, the British-made International Velvet and even Asterix At The Olympic Games – but they’re not a particularly distinguished bunch.  The only exception, alongside Chariots of Fire, is One Day In September (1999).  This chilling documentary traced the shocking and tragic events of the 1972 Munich Olympics, and went on to win the Best Documentary Oscar in 2000.

So, if we want to get into the Olympic spirit, perhaps we need to think in terms of films about sport and concentrate on the ones that actually appear at the Games.  Sadly, sports movies don’t always enjoy the best of reputations.  Three words say it all: Escape To Victory.

Footie is, of course, an Olympic sport and there are other films about the beautiful game which are less risible.  One of the best examples is Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham (2002), which features an up-coming youngster called Keira Knightley in the story of two teenagers aiming to make it big in women’s football.  And, yes, there is a ladies’ tournament at this year’s Olympics: it kicks off in Cardiff, two days before the official opening ceremony.

Will Smith portrayed gold medallist Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay)

Boxing has been a feature of the modern Olympics for over 100 years, with some of the sport’s biggest names coming to prominence during the Games.  The most flamboyant of them all, Mohammed Ali, was known as Cassius Clay when he won gold in 1960 and was the subject of a compelling performance by Will Smith in Michael Mann’s Ali (2001).

While everybody has heard of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky sequence, Martin Scorcese’s Raging Bull (1980) is regarded as the ultimate boxing movie and won De Niro an Oscar.  I can’t comment any further yet because, if you read one of my earlier posts, you’ll know that I’ve never seen it and am aiming to put that right this summer.

Ladies’ boxing makes its debut at this year’s Olympics, which means a nod in the direction of another boxing Oscar winner, Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004). I won’t give away the ending in case you’ve never seen it but, as in most of his films, screenwriter Paul Haggis telegraphs it loud and clear about half way through!

But think of the Olympics and you think athletics.  The trouble is, apart from Chariots Of Fire, there aren’t that many other movies about runners – or shot putters, long/high jumpers or marathon runners.  I guess you could just about squeeze in John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1967) – but only just.  A better bet would be Tony Richardson’s gritty The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (1962) with a young Tom Courtney whose talent for running sees him rise through the ranks while spending time at an approved school.

I have to be honest and say that I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world: I like tennis, but that’s about it, and I’d rather forget the films that have been made about it.  But all of the sports movies I’ve suggested here are worth seeing, for a number of different reasons – and the only physical exercise you’ll have while watching them is adjusting the volume control!

Chariots Of Fire goes on limited re-release around the UK on Friday, 13 July.


A podcast version of this article is now available to download at:


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