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Chariots of Fire (1981)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

1919. Harold Abrahams, son of a Lithuanian Jew, is subject to subtle prejudice at Caius College, Cambridge, where he is the star sprinter among the amateur runners, including friends Lord Andrew Lindsay, Aubrey Montague and Henry Stallard. In Scotland, Eric Liddell, son of missionary parents in China, is studying and helping his sister to run a local mission. He participates in the Highland Games and is encouraged to think seriously about running by friend Sandy McGrath, an idea opposed by his sister Jennie for fear he will neglect mission work.

Both Abrahams and Liddell rise to some prominence and finally meet on the race track. Liddell wins, and Abrahams takes the defeat so badly that his girlfriend, operetta star Sybil Gordon, worries that she is losing him to his obsession for running. A trainer, Sam Mussabini, who had earlier rejected Abrahams' request for guidance, now offers to improve his time. In the face of strong opposition from his college head to this 'ungentle-manly' professionalism, he continues to train with Sam, while Liddell runs cross-country over the moors. Both are chosen to represent Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics, along with Abrahams' three friends from Caius.

On departing, Liddell discovers that the heats for his event, the 100 yards, are to be held on Sunday and he flatly refuses to run. Great pressure from the Prince of Wales and the Olympic Committee fails to change his mind, and a solution is only reached when Lord Lindsay offers to give up his place in the 400 yards to Liddell, although the "Flying Scotsman" is unused to that distance. In the event, both Abrahams and Liddell win gold medals.

A title records that Harold Abrahams went on to become the 'father' of British athletics, and died in 1978; Liddell went back to missionary work in China, and died there at the end of the Second World War.

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