On Wings of Eagles, rated PG-13
On Wings of Eagles is a sequel of sorts to the 1981 Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire. It is co-directed by Stephen Shin and Michael Parker, and was titled The Last Race when it originally opened in 2016. The film was written by Rubby Xu, Christopher C. Chan, Shin and Parker.
Chariots of Fire introduced us to Eric Liddell (then played by Ian Charleson), and his participation in the 1924 Olympics held in Paris. Liddell, known as the “Flying Scotsman” who was favored in the 100 meters, chose not to run because the race was going to take place on a Sunday. He was criticized for his decision, but held fast to what he believed the Bible taught. Instead, he ran the 400-meter race, setting a world record, winning with his unique way of running with his head thrown back.
Liddell, played in this new film by Joseph Fiennes (Risen, Luther, Shakespeare in Love), would have many opportunities to financially capitalize on his win, but instead chose to return to China, the land of his birth where he was born to missionary parents, to serve the Lord with the London Missionary Society. Liddell would teach science and sports at the Anglo-Chinese College.
Liddell married Florence (Elizabeth Arends), and they would have three daughters. A pregnant Florence and their two young daughters would leave for Canada in 1941, while Eric remained in China. Eric fully expected to join them soon, but instead finds himself evicted from his home and moving with many others to live in his school building.
When Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Liddell and others are relocated to the Weihsien Japanese internment camp, which had the ironic sign over the camp entrance “Courtyard of the Happy Way”. At the camp, we see him teaching the children and his faith in action as he cared for his fellow prisoners, including frequently giving away his own food and participating in a few races against the Japanese commander.
The film is narrated by an older Xu Niu (Bruce Locke), who is portrayed in the film by Shawn Dou. Niu is Liddell’s friend and former driver, who works from the outside to smuggle additional supplies into the camp. The film is in English, Mandarin and Japanese with subtitles. It is rated PG-13 for scenes of war violence and torture as we see prisoners, including Liddell, cast into solitary confinement in “the hole” for days at a time. The film includes themes of self-sacrifice, love, and hope.
A review from REEL Faith by Dewayne Hamby states the following:
Stephen Shin, a Chinese director (The Source of Love, Brotherhood, Heart to Hearts) and a Christian, spent more than 10 years trying to tell the final arc of Liddell’s life, all the while enduring cultural and religious barriers.
Shin has stated “The movie does not only serve the purpose of Christians,” he said. “We want to let the general audience can feel about the great work done by Eric Liddell and how he showed his love. He was a Christian and his life showed the love of God. So that everyone can know in difficult and hard times, they can show the love of God and people can overcome difficulties in their lives. My wish people can share the message in this movie.”
I was familiar with Liddell’s life and strong faith. For those who aren’t, I wonder how much of that will come through in this film. Yes, the film does show him with his Bible, showing love to a young Chinese orphan boy, officiating at a wedding, quoting Mark 10:9 “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” to his captors trying to separate a newly married couple, and the hymn “Be Still My Soul” being featured prominently throughout the film. Liddell’s work as a missionary is not featured in the film. And near the end of the film the narrator tells us that they learned from Liddell to have faith in the goodness of humanity, completely missing the point of his life.
Fiennes was excellent as the self-sacrificing Liddell. I appreciated the film, which was filmed in Tianjin, China. It contains some fine scenery of China, set design and costumes, but I would have liked more of Liddell’s Christian faith to come out in the script. For another look at Liddell’s life after the Olympics, check out Duncan Hamilton’s excellent 2016 book For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr.