Take 2 — London Calling
'Chariots of Fire' times two
"Chariots of Fire" in a London movie theater. Photo by George Liu
During my first week in London, I not only saw a revival of one of the best films about the Olympic Games but also attended a performance of a recently opened stage play that is based on that film.
On July 13 a digitally remastered version of the 1981 Oscar winner “Chariots of Fire” was released throughout the United Kingdom to boost enthusiasm for the Olympic Games.
(A quick synopsis: This film tells the true story of two UK athletes who competed at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. One athlete, Harold Abrahams, overcame religious prejudice and the other, Eric Liddell, placed his religious convictions over the wishes of the British Olympic Committee and the Duke of Windsor by refusing to compete on a Sunday. This is an inspirational film of two athletes who went against the established order and triumphed at the end.)
“Chariots” is one of my favorite films so I could not pass on the opportunity to view it in a London movie theater. If the British and American versions were exactly the same, I would have saved the $15 and two hours of my life, but there are a couple of scenes that are different in each one, making it worthwhile.
On the day before my flight to London I noticed that Mark Chandler, a leader for a London social network group, made arrangements for group members to see a stage version of “Chariots of Fire,” which had opened in May to favorable reviews. It was playing at the Gielgud Theatre – an ironic touch because John Gielgud, after whom the theater was named, portrayed one of the Cambridge University dons who made demeaning comments about Abrahams’ Jewish heritage. The theater is located in London’s West End, a district famous for its live stage productions.
The stage version is as inspirational as the film. Not only is Vangelis’ unforgettable theme music incorporated in the play, but he also composed new music for it. The film and the play are about runners, and there are many running scenes. To make this work, the stage designer created a track in a figure-eight configuration so that the actors can run around and through the audience.
A new, real-life character is introduced in the stage play. Florence Mackenzie is an assertive woman who suggests Liddell’s switch to the 400-meter race as a solution to his dilemma. The epilogue states that she and Eric eventually married.
The two versions of “Chariots of Fire” were excellent, uplifting segues to sixteen days of Olympic competition.
"Chariots of Fire" on stage at the Gielgud Theatre. Photo by George Liu