Year of the Producer: Barbara Broccoli's Eureka Moment for Chariots of Fire
Billed as “one of the most thrilling Olympic stories,” Chariots of Fire centres on two great athletes - Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams (played on the big screen by Ian Charleson and Ben Cross) - outsiders who overcame prejudice and personal strife to compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics.
The film had such an impact on me back in 1981. I was very good friends with Dodi Fayed, who was keen to get involved in filmmaking so I ended up helping him become an executive producer on the project. I think he identified very strongly with the story. It was such a special time, and obviously became a very iconic film.
Then a few months ago the director Hugh Hudson, another very dear friend of mine, came to me saying that he wanted to partner with theatre producers to bring it to the stage. The only problem is that it’s such an iconic film, how could it possibly translate to the stage? So along with Michael Rose and Michael Wilson we said we love the idea, but if we’re going to do it, it has to be the theatrical equivalent of the film, which was a big ask.I immediately thought about Edward Hall who I’ve known for some time and I think is a really innovative director. I met with him and then Edward suggested Mike Bartlett to write the adaptation.
Mike was very keen to be respectful of Colin Welland's original screenplay and I think he's done an extraordinary job because he’s kept the essence of the film but he’s also managed to translate it into something really theatrical. Once we got the draft we all got so excited because we felt he had really managed to pull it off.
It was very important to us that it was an honourable translation, and it was. I think from that point we didn’t have a lot of concern moving forward, we felt we would pull it off, and we had the A-team with Edward and designer Miriam Buether, and then Scott Ambler came on board for the choreography. That was when it all started to take shape, because we had the foundation, the wonderful play.
We wanted to bring it to the West End because it's a very sizeable production, in all senses. Plus we wanted to be able to really celebrate the run up to the Olympics and give people a theatrical experience that was going to be as thrilling and inspirational as the Games themselves.
It is the great Olympic story. I mean these two athletes, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, are such inspirational figures. It’s important to remind people of who they were and the values they exemplified. And we have to be mindful that modern day Olympians have been training for years and we really do have to be supportive of them and appreciate and celebrate their achievements.
The fact is it does come down to one man or one woman standing on a field competing and that is very pure. And the spirit in which they involve themselves in these games for their country, really it’s very moving. I think the public are going to get behind it. It’s a great human drama isn’t it?
And of course the cast are magnificent. It's fitting that Jack Lowden, who plays Eric Liddell, won the Ian Charleson award a few years ago. Ian was such a dear man, such a brave man and I think that he would be very proud of Jack. Both he and James (McArdle) have delivered exhilarating and inspirational performances. And they’ve worked very hard - the whole company have trained like real Olympians. You really feel the passion that they have for the story, and because of the immersive nature of the show you feel the wind as they race past you, you hear the breathing, it’s very visceral. You come out and you really feel inspired.
- Barbara Broccoli was speaking to Theo Bosanquet