Lord Puttnam attending the Edinburgh premiere of Chariots of Fire
It’s 31 years since Chariots of Fire first hit cinema screens. With the London Olympics imminent, an Oscar-winning true tale of British athletes was always likely to get some attention but there are many reasons why this particular story - of athletes Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams and their religious convictions – still resonates.
“I think some of the appeal is that the film speaks about the values that 99.9 per cent of us basically adhere to,” explains Lord Putnam. “I think it allows us to feel better about ourselves. It allows us to be the people we would like to be.
“What’s really interesting about the film is that it’s about the power of saying no. Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has wanted to say, or wished we had said, no to something and in a sense Eric does it for us.
“If you want to take it further, and the reason it still resonates today, is that most of us are disturbed by the way the world’s going, the way in which we live, the way in which we’re encouraged to think... we all want to say no. And the film in a sense does it for us, and we walk out of the cinema feeling better about ourselves because someone said no on our behalf.
The power of the film is remarkable: I recently saw two kids messing around – neither of whom were born at the time of the film’s release – with one pretending to run in slow motion and the other humming the memorable Chariots of Fire theme by Vangelis. “That’s fantastic,” says a laughing Lord Putnam. “In fairness we nicked the slow motion thing straight out of another Olympic film. We saw it and thought oh yes, we’re having that!
“But it is incredible. This re-release is the latest in a long line of fortuitous things with the film. The whole thing was a series of happy accidents. It’s been a wholly blessed venture.”
While Lord Putnam is delighted with the re-release (see trailer, right) – “the print you’ll see now is better than the print at the original premiere” – it doesn’t herald a return to film production. Those days are definitely over.
“I made an absolute decision, quite early on actually, that the film industry did not treat its elderly well. I knew too many disappointed, disillusioned 55-, 60-, 65-year-old producers walking around with a dog-eared script, still trying to get their film made. I promised myself that wouldn’t happen to me.”
There is one irony to the re-release that can’t go without comment. The Sun is sponsoring the reissue, and a few years ago, Putnam chaired the joint scrutiny committee on the Communications Bill. The main recommendation was to prevent ownership of British terrestrial TV stations by companies with a significant share of the newspaper market - which effectively stopped Rupert Murdoch buying Five.
“Oh you noticed that...” Putnam laughs. “The impressive thing perhaps, is that they also noticed but still did it.
“It is very ironic but: a) they pay very well; b) their new chief executive Tom Mockridge I like very much; and c) I like what they’re trying to do to clean up their act. I don’t think we can afford to lose any more newspapers. All I want is good newspapers.”
The digitally restored Chariots of Fire is rereleased on 13 July 2012 by Twentieth Century Fox, in association with The Sun and BT and with the support of the BFI.