It’s hard to think of a more quintessentially British film.
Based around the 1924 Olympic Games and the preparation of two of England’s most cherished sports heroes, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, it is self-congratulatory and reeks of Imperialism yet still manages to be both stirring and very entertaining.
The film begins in 1919, when Liddell (Nigel Havers), the devout Christian son of Scottish missionaries, discovers his talent for running on the rugby field.
For him, winning a race is a religious experience and the Olympic medal becomes a prize he wants to win for God.
Meanwhile, at Cambridge, Abrahams (Ben Cross) discovers running as a way of working out his aggression and anger in the subtly prejudiced world of upper-class anti-Semitism.
The son of a Lithuanian immigrant determined to make an Englishman of his son in an Anglo-Saxon world, Harold uses his ability to run like the wind as both a weapon and a defence against bigotry.
When Eric and Harold compete for the first time in 1923, the Scot wins. Harold enrages the academic hierarchy (played by Sir John Gielgud and director-turned-actor Lindsay Anderson) by hiring a professional coach who, even worse, is half Arab.
The film follows their struggles and defeats, examines their private lives, and reveals without sentimentality the growing compassion in their relationship with other teammates as they find themselves united by King and country and their respective gods at the Paris Olympics in 1924.
It recreates the mood of the moment and the intense class conflicts to great effect, even picking up four Oscars for its trouble.
It also spawned the most lampooned schoolyard slow-motion action sequence since The Six Million Dollar Man – Cue Vangelis.
Newly-wed Prince Charles and Princess Diana requested a showing of the film on board the Royal Yacht Britannia during their 16-day honeymoon around the Mediterranean in 1981.
Lord Andrew Lindsay
Master of Trinity College
Sir John Gielgud
Master of Caius College
Prince of Wales