Dueling Projects to Explore What Happened After 'Chariots of Fire'

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'Chariots of Fire'

A largely Chinese production will downplay Olympic runner Eric Liddell's Christianity while another will not.

Two movies that are billing themselves as sequels to Chariots of Fire are in the works, but they have different sensibilities regarding Christianity, a central plot point. 

One movie, called Absolute Surrender, is about Eric Liddell, the devout Christian runner whose refusal to compete on Sundays during the 1924 Olympics was the basis for 1981's Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire.

But while that movie explored Liddell's friendship with fellow British Olympian Harold Abrahams, a Jew who endured anti-Semitism while competing in 1924's Summer Olympics held in Paris, France, both of the upcoming films will instead explore what came after the games for Liddell.

While Scottish, Liddell was born in China to parents who were Christian missionaries, and he returned to China after his victory at the Olympics to follow in their footsteps. Along with his charitable works, Liddell raced sporadically in China.

In 1941, Japanese aggressors made things very dangerous in China so Liddell's pregnant wife and their children left for Canada, but he stayed behind, eventually forced into the Weihsien Internment Camp.

Liddell died there in 1945 five months before the camp was liberated. Decades later, Chinese authorities confirmed that when the Japanese offered him an opportunity to leave via a prisoner swap, he instead gave his spot to a pregnant woman.

Absolute Surrender is a $20 million independent film written by Eric Eichinger and Howard Klausner with Mark Joseph in negotiations to produce. Klausner co-wrote Space Cowboys for Clint Eastwood and Joseph is producing a biopic about Ronald Reagan

While Absolute Surrender won't shy from the obvious religious aspects of Liddell's story, The Last Race, a previously announced film on the same topic, is expected to downplay his Christianity.

"Our story is not telling religion, it's telling about love among people," The Last Race co-director Stephen Shin told The Independent. Liddell's religious beliefs, he said, "will not be emphasized."

The Last Race stars Joseph Fiennes as Liddell and it is largely a Chinese production so it won't be considered one of the 34 movies allowed under China's quota system for foreign films. The movie will be distributed by Hong Kong-based Alibaba Pictures Group.

Absolute Surrender has no director or stars attached yet.

Since the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, a Communist party that promotes atheism has ruled, so the notion that The Last Race would not focus on Liddell's Christian motivation isn't surprising. Eichinger, though, is hoping audiences do not confuse the competing titles.

"We can't speak for other films, but fans of Eric and Chariots of Fire can be assured that we do not come to his life story from a worldview that mocks, persecutes or forces into the underground those who share Eric's beliefs," he said.

Liddell's three daughters, still living in Canada, are aware of both projects. Asked about Absolute Surrender, daughter Maureen Liddell Moore called it "a gift." About The Last Race, she said: "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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