As a handsomely realized and superbly acted story about the multi-faceted drive to win, it was perhaps all the more appropriate that Chariots of Fire (1981) overcame its dark-horse status to take the Best Picture Oscar. Based on the true story of two British runners in the 1924 Olympics, the experiences of Ben Cross' Jewish Cambridge student and Ian Charleson's devout missionary peel away the usual patriotic dross to reveal the complex motives that drive competition. The deeply personal victories at stake are rendered all the more dramatic by debut director Hugh Hudson's dynamic training and racing sequences, beginning with the oft-imitated slow-motion run along the beach to the famous strains of Vangelis' Oscar-winning synthesizer score. Along with Cross and Charleson, the ensemble cast shines, particularly Ian Holm as Cross' track coach; John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson, meanwhile, are the quintessential Cambridge Old Guard snobs. Hailed as an old-fashioned, yet unusually intelligent celebration of human spirit, Chariots of Fire became a much-needed international hit for the British film industry and a personal triumph for producer David Puttnam when it snuck past the favored Reds (1981) in the final 1981 Oscar race. Colin Welland's screenplay and Milena Canonero's exquisite period costumes won Oscars as well.
by Lucia Bozzola review