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Chariots of Fire

A memorable performance by Ian Charleson, a rising star in the British (Scottish) theater scene (who sadly died young); great music by Vangelis; film is produced by the famous David Puttnam who had worked in Hollywood for some years, but decided to return to England.

A film that stands tall in the annals of UK film making. 

Chariots of Fire is a 1981 British historical sports drama film directed by Hugh Hudson, written by Colin Welland, and produced by David Puttnam. It is based on the true story of two British athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. Ben Cross and Ian Charleson star as Abrahams and Liddell, alongside Nigel Havers, Ian Holm, John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige, Brad Davis, and Dennis Christopher in supporting roles. Kenneth Branagh makes his debut in a minor role. What a cast! All Stars!


Chariots of Fire was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score for Vangelis' electronic theme tune. At the 35th British Academy Film Awards, the film was nominated in eleven categories and won three, including Best Film. It is ranked 19th in the British Film Institute's list of Top 100 British films.


The film's title was inspired by the line "Bring me my Chariot of fire!" from the William Blake poem adapted into the British hymn "Jerusalem"; the hymn is heard at the end of the film.[3] The original phrase "chariot(s) of fire" is from 2 Kings 2:11 and 6:17 in the Bible. Charleson died 6 Jan.1990. A film full of heart, and very British. I enjoyed every minute of it. It's a classic, a film that you just keep watching (once a year).

Charlie Chaplin

Fabulous movie with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead-role; Richard Attenborough directing. 

Chaplin is a 1992 American biographical comedy-drama film about the life of British comedian Charlie Chaplin. It was produced and directed by Richard Attenborough and stars Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Penelope Ann Miller and Kevin Kline.

Richard Attenborough (famous brother of the famous David Attenborough) previously (produced &) directed GANDI, a large scale and impressive movie about Gandi in India. It seems Attenborough specialized in doing biographical work. Chaplin is a great choice, since Chaplin started life in the same country as Attenborough, the UK, be it quite a few years apart.

I learn that Robert Downey was a risky choice since he had a history of using drugs, and wasn’t a reliably star. Well, I imagine that Attenborough was very glad he picked Downey; what a terrific performer he is. Downey went on to do many brilliant parts (Sherlock Holmes films f.i.).

I thorough enjoyed watching this film. I think Attenborough achieved telling the true story of Chaplin's life while making sure the whole film is an expression of Chaplin's incredible spirit, a man who grew up in dire circumstances and learned, even as a child, to stand up for himself, and what's more, to 'get ahead' by presenting a spirited performance. He was quite the 'show-man' and never lost 'the touch'.


One Chaplin arrived in the USA, he had to start all over again 'making it', and he did. His film-making was impressive pioneering; he arrived just at the right time, to make a deep and lasting mark on the culture through his powerful 'silent movies' and his unforgettable 'tramp' character. When sound became part of film-making Chaplin learned to adjust and took his art to yet another level. Whet a great artist Chaplin was (his daughter Geraldine a wonderful actress). It was entirely fitting that Richard Attenborough made a movie on the life of 'The Tramp. Bravo!

Along the lines of biopics, Attenborough also made films on ‘Young Winston’ Churchill (1972), on anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, ‘Cry Freedom’, and on C.S. Lewis (and partner Joy Davidman ’Shadowlands’ (1993). Films about C.S. Lewis are an interesting subject worth attention. Films based on C.S. Lewis ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ are also a valuable subject for study. And, of course, all of Charlie Chaplin films are worth revisiting!

Cinema Paradiso

Saw this film again, after seeing it years ago. This time I saw the un-cut (director's) version, which is indeed a great deal longer. A beautiful and delightful film, too long -obviously- in the uncut version. The young boy actor as well as the young adult actor, playing the same part at different ages, are both brilliant. What a delightful film. One of my all-time favorites!

Close-to-Jesus: Joseph

An impressive movie in many ways, but also a movie with script problems. The way King Harod and his court is depicted is hardly believable; at times it looks like comedy. 

The script writers have tried to give the main characters a bit of background. Not a bad initiative but it doesn’t all amount to much and is hardly believable; these plots are rather thin on the ground and are hardly compatible with the larger story.  Still, the main characters of the film are impressive, the sets are beautiful, camera work is done well, on the whole. Apart from a few back-stories, the film follows the traditional nativity story faithfully and with great care. 


The angelic appearances to both Mary & Joseph didn’t work for me; the usual heavenly voice, with lots of echo. The film maker didn’t have a sufficient plan here. The music is too much at times. There are quite a few extreme close-ups in the film where the story didn’t ask for this kind of shot. Even so, I enjoyed watching this movie; it feels like a fresh and sincere ‘nativity’ film, better than most. The Jewishness of the characters and their community felt accurate to the account in the gospels (and the little I know about the Jewish culture).


I found it strange that Joseph dies at the end of the film; he is still very young. All of a sudden he has ‘heart trouble’ (?). Seemed so odd. This man has been very active all of hi life; he is fit as an ox!  

I guess the dying theme has been put into the script to shine a Godly light on the boy Jesus. It all seemed a little fabricated to me, including how Joseph’s cousin suddenly re-appears (out of nowhere) to ask for forgiveness; not really believable, especially given his previous behavior.


There’s too much back & forth over “my son” and “my father” between Joseph and the 12 year old Jesus. The script writers are trying too hard (to achieve something ‘spiritual’). For me that just didn’t work. The very last image the film gives us, is a camera shot of the boy Jesus, another extreme close-up. The boy is impressive, but the shot is too close, and it is held for too long… The film maker is trying too hard, I think. A little moderation could produce better results.

Having said all that, the images and the (confusing) death-bed dialogue stayed with me for a while and was ‘food-for-thought’. I think I should watch the (end of the) film again at some time. 

Interesting work, this film, as part of an offering of 4 films that together are presented as: CLOSE TO JESUS.

Close-to-Jesus: Judas

Many great images, sweeping music, strong performances, great locations and sets; it is obvious that a lot of work (and money) have gone into the making of this film. Of the 4 films in the series (Close-to-Jesus) this is, I think, the weak link. The concept 9of exploring stories around characters in the gospel story {who are not Jesus} runs into extra problems here. It is already a risky enterprise to embellish back-stories of characters who have a (significant) role to play on the gospel story (as written in the gospel). The other 3 films show how delicate it is to make a film along these lines (x3). 

The redeeming factor in the other 3 film in this series (of 4) is that in those films, the main character meets the Lord in their hour of need, and is set free. When this ‘setting free’ happens through a situation that is actually described in scripture (the anointing of Jesus’s feet/ Thomas being the Lord, alive), the film finishes on a very strong note. In the ‘Judas’ film that is not the case. Judas doesn’t make this way to the cross to ask for forgiveness. In his state-of-shock he runs the other way (and ants himself). No redemption here, not of Judas, and not of the movie either. The viewer is left bereft of joy, or peace, or hope. Even for the unbeliever, who might in some ways identify with Judas, there is nothing to take hold off…


I must admit that I have not watched the film all the way through, like I have the other 3 films. I struggled, even more so, than I did during ‘Mary Magdalene’  and began to skip forwards. I just wanted it to be over with. The opening images were fabulous, and the actor playing Judas was impressive but perhaps rather one-sided; not a whole lot of shading & coloring in his acting. Then again, this kind of problem is much to do with the poor scrip and the lack of direction. All 4 films suffer in this way (in smaller or greater ways).

Close-to-Jesus: Mary Magdalene

I struggled to watch this movie. The ideas behind the script are interesting, but the story is not believable, and the dialogue is often diabolical. The actors can only deliver the given lines through bad acting. The given story has no connections to the gospel story, as in, what the gospels actually report. In other words, the entire script is imagined; no anchor into any gospel text. Except! At the very end of the movie, we witness our heroine entering a house where Jesus will be speaking. She approached the Lord slowly; He gently invites her to come closer. She end’s up crying tears over His feet, and wiping those tears with her hair.  The host of the house questions this action and wonders (out-loud) if Jesus has any idea ‘what kind of women’ is ‘loving on him. Jesus speaks the famous passage from scripture, and praises her for anointing his feet.

This is a beautiful scene, well acted and well filmed. It is the climax of the film; the whole movie has been leading up to Mary finally  ‘being set-free’ after she has gone through lots of ‘getting hurt’ and being abused. A few scenes before this final scene, we witness Jesus bringing the young son of Mary’s best friend back to life. This powerful moment instantly become a turning point in Mary’s life. While she has learned that no man can be trusted, Jesus, stepping into her life of misery, suddenly turns her mourning into dancing (almost). It occurred to me that this miracle, performed by Jesus, came across so ‘natural’, so ‘normal’, so wonderfully quietly (while all the drama had been so very loud). I was touched by this sudden ‘break-through’.

If I’m right, we could see the boy-actor move slightly before Jesus brough him back to life; officially he was dead. Seeing him move slightly was endearing to me; it didn’t matter one little bit - the actions & words of Jesus were so wonderfully simple and profound; here is the savior at work.


As I said earlier, I nearly dropped the film altogether; I found it so hard to stay with all the over-done drama and awful dialogue. But then I caught sight of a redemptive ending, so I skipped there and watched the last 20 minutes; I’m so glad I did. Here the movie finally comes into its own.

The director did a great job getting all the drama on film in beautiful cinematography, but he clearly is not the man to refine the drama, trim the dialogue and get powerful performances from the actors. Much of their work, sadly, is ‘off the rail’, due to a script that needed a great deal of work still. 

The opening scene for instance is totally over-done; the Amos character is speaking way too many lines, and all those lines spoken angrily and loud. The film has hardly begun and the drama is already slipping & sliding; Mary’s responses are weak as a result of all this over-the-top drama. It could all be done so much better.

There is this misconception about ‘drama’ that it needs to be loud & lengthy, the more the better. 

Not so!  The writing and the directing in this film are failing badly in this department.

Then there’s the story!   

The story of this film is somewhat far-fetched and not quite believable. I think the story of this film could be improved upon. Life can be ‘stranger than fiction’, true but the life (the strength) of a film very much depends on a strong story that is fully believable. It could be a matter of trimming the story-turns down a little, or using more subtle story-turns. In a way, the STORY suffers from the same loudness as the dialogue.


With this film the film-makers have followed through boldly on previous gospel-related movies like ‘Ben Hur’ or ‘Quo Vadis’. This is a fascinating GENRE that deserves more attention. This genre can be a great way to grab an audience’s attention through certain characters and themes, and then to have the main character meet (almost bump into) Jesus (who is in the full flow of his ministry).

Great to see this being done through the ‘Close to Jesus’ films; I just hope that film makers, doing this genre, get better at it.

The lead actress, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, was excellent all the way through, even in spite of a poor script. 

Close-to-Jesus: Thomas

I watched this film all the way through, in 2 sittings. The first half hour was mesmerizing to me. The dialogue between the disciples hiding in the Upper Room (after the crucifixion) was strong (in my ears) and relevant to their characters and situation. What strikes right away is the deep love for his master that Thomas holds and expresses. His deep voice helps in making him stand out from the rest of the cast. In my perception the actor (Ricky Tognazzi) does an excellent job. The script writers focussed on the strong love Thomas has for Jesus, and Tognazzi runs with this beautifully.

He is desperate to know more about his master’s fate, even while he gets in the way of his own faith walk; his doubt makes him run for answers, and he is looking in all the wrong places. To me, this is good script writing, and the end result is Thomas realizing that he shouldn’t look for his Lord among the dead; he should look among the LIVING! - very MEANINGFUL indeed, and scriptural!

This, I think, is the VISION behind the ‘Close-to-Jesus’ series, and this vision is indeed totally worthwhile exploring. How the various characters were ‘lost’ in their weaknesses, and how, when they meet the Lord, Jesus plus them out of their darkness, into then light. When that finally happens, there is a tremendous release of joy mixed with tears of healing.  High marks for those who initiated this series, and the writers whose job it was to flesh-out this vision.

However, this kind-of-work is like walking through a mine-field; you have to be extremely careful. After the first half hour, the film loses strength; it turns into something like a ‘treasure-hunt story’,  ‘quest-for-the-dead-body’, and much of the drama struggles to be believable.  What stopped me from dropping out was the strong performance by Ricky Tognazzi; he was believable, even while certain story-turns and certain dialogues were not. All of a sudden this film is in the category, the genre of RISEN, but RISEN does a better job. 

I think this film suffers from the same problems as the other offerings in the ‘Close-to-Jesus’ series. Similar to the Mary Magdalene film, this film picks-up being powerful from the moment Peter returns to Jerusalem. Joanne, beautifully played by Roberta Armani, gives friendly support to Thomas; a well written part, I think, and well acted. Great to see the powerful role women play among the men; she helps Thomas to face his friends, while he feels so ashamed of his heart-wrenching doubt and his wild trip to nowhere…

The disciples receive Thomas with appropriate care and acceptance, even while there’s still a gulf between them and doubting Thomas. Only Jesus himself can help Thomas bridge this gap. According to scripture, Jesus appears to the gathering (of disciples & some women); obviously the most powerful scene of the film. In a way, building an entire story around the doubts of Thomas, and following him through his destructive non-faith adventure, to finally arrive back in Jerusalem completely exhausted and desperate, makes him (and us) SO VERY READY to FULLY RECEIVE the Lord’s presence and forgiveness. Powerful words when Jesus says: “Blessed are those who believe without having seen.” That’s a word for all would-be believers in the ages to follow. Powerful moments like this make a (shaky) film worthwhile!

It struck me at this point, that it didn’t really matter how much I liked the actor playing Jesus, how strong or perhaps weak he looks; it didn’t matter! The actor playing Jesus, simply stood in for the One-and-Only, the Lord, did His actions and spoke His words. All of it was powerful as Thomas finally received his restoration, forgiveness and peace. It was the (hard) work of the Thomas actor (Ricky Tognazzi) that had pulled me into the story and helped me identify with him. Through this moment-of-truth for Thomas, I could receive a similar moment-of-truth for myself. And this is the power of film! The audience is being ministered unto; gets blessed!


As an aside, in productions (film or stage) where Jesus is present throughout the story, there is an extra challenge, as Jesus is being portrayed by an actor who will bring their (his) limitations to the role. How can any actor ever succeed here? It’s a no-win situation. The focus needs to be put on the actions Jesus takes, and the words he speaks (and how his actions inform his words, and vice versa).


Another think I very much liked about this movie was the role of Joseph of Arimathea (Hannes Jaenicke) and the way he & Thomas interact. I liked the theme of the different parties suspecting the other to have stolen the body (of Jesus) and then (possibly) lying about it. Realistic, I think, at least for a short while. I liked how Joseph of Arimathea gives himself a separate ‘identity’ from the other ‘groups’: the Romans, Cajafas & team, the disciples. Also interesting how, in this film, Joseph (of Arimathea), in the end, sides with the disciples. To Pilate he finally admits: “I’m one of them.” From that moment on, he indeed joins the group of disciples, including several women. Great to see the same actress play Mary Magdalene, who was in the Magdalene film; she’s terrific.

Like I wrote earlier (Mary Magdalene), I hope that (Christian) film makers continue to refine their art, especially the writers, to get better at this unique genre.  

Chronicles of Narnia

Billy writes:

Early September 1979, I turned to Jesus; I became a Christian. I don’t remember how I learned about this, but somehow I got the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ pocket-books, the whole series in a small box (I still have it). I began to read, and read all 7 small novels. I loved it! A few months late I moved to London to be part of FLAMES, gospel theater company. We did a street-show, a children’s play and an evening production. The children’s play, ‘The King’s Kids’ was loosely based on ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’.

Some years later, I saw ‘The lion, the witch & the wardrobe’ on stage in London, at the Westminster Theater. It was very special, even though the stage production was by far not as spectacular as the story was in my imagination.

A few years later, in the late 80s, the BBC brought the story out in a TV series. It was a mile-stone achievement (for that time). Technology has moved on hugely since that time, and so a new initiative emerged to make a proper cinema film of the same story (and 2 more films of 2 more stories in the box).

I have seen the 2005 film a few times now, and every time I see it, I like to even more. The story is an amazing achievement by C.S. Lewis, even while this was one of his less serious works. To write a story that works as a parable, an allegory, a metaphor to the gospel-story is near impossible. The story, to me, is a master-piece; the way it features the 4 children, who are siblings, is brilliant! Aslan, the lion, presents an amazing Christ-image. With lots of beautiful details, and some beautiful dialogue, this work is timeless and has the potential to reach a very large audience, world-wide.    

The 2005 film came at a time when computer & film technology had matured sufficiently, and this film shows it. The images are amazing, the characters very believable and some of them a lot of fun. ASLAN looks (and sound) impressive. Battle scenes work very well. And to top it all off, the 4 children are sublime. Reading up a little on the production story, a few hint are given how the director and his team were very thoughtful and methodic to have the 4 young people give their very best performances. What an achievement. This film, to me, does an excellent job presenting the gospel clearly and with deep understanding (the work of C.S. Lewis) while also giving an (almost) all age and world-wide audience a terrific story-spectacular!   

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