Cast: Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Holm, John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige, Dennis Christopher, Nigel Davenport, Patrick Magee, David Yelland, Brad Davis, Peter Egan, Struan Rodger, Yves Beneyton, Jeremy Sinden, Gordon Hammersley, Andrew Hawkins, Richard Griffiths, John Young, Benny Young, Yvonne Gilan, Jack Smethurst, Gerry Slevin
An aged Lord Andrew Lindsay’s words at a funeral begin the story of a group of young British men who train for the 1924 Paris Olympics: “Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generations and were a glory in their days.” Englishman Harold Abraham (Cross), a freshman at Cambridge University, wins a foot race and attracts the attention of schoolmasters wishing to showcase their institution. Abraham runs to validate his sense of personal power. The son of a newly-rich Jew, he struggles to affirm his place in society. With his young friends Lord Andrew Lindsay (Havers) and Aubrey Montague (Farrell), Abraham competes in footraces on the path to participation in Olympic trials. Aubrey Montague is brave, compassionate, and kind, a content man among driven men. Andrew Lindsay has the grace, confidence and élan that mark the best of the English upper class. He is the quintessential sportsman. In Scotland, Eric Liddell (Charleson) aspires to become a missionary. Liddell is a devoted Presbyterian churchman, a natural athlete who excels as a rugby player and in informal track events. Abraham, Montague, Lindsay, and others begin to prepare for the warm-ups for the upcoming Olympics. Liddell is at first reluctant to compete in the preparatory formal footraces, but is persuaded to join by the belief that running is a way of glorifying God. At a sermon, Liddell tells his audience, “Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” After Liddell defeats him at a 100 meter race, Abraham hires a professional trainer, Sam Mussabini (Holm), to coach him. Abraham is a conflicted young man, gifted but hampered by perceived anti-Semitism and by a feeling he does not belong in the British upper class he seeks to join. His girlfriend, Sybil Gordon (Krige), and Mussabini provide the moral support and encouragement Abraham needs to advance in world-class competition. The young men train arduously for the Olympics, and gradually Abraham and Liddell emerge as the best in short-distance events. As the time of the Paris Olympics draws near, Abraham, Liddell, and the others must overcome personal demons, unwelcome disputes, and pressures from the Olympic committee, and gird themselves for the ultimate test of their capabilities. Music by Vangelis. Screenplay by Colin Welland.