The movie is based on the true story of two British athletes competing in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Englishman Harold Abrahams (played by Ben Cross), having overcome racial and class prejudice in order to compete, finds himself up against the "Flying Scotsman", Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) in the 100 metres, but Liddell drops out of the event because his religious convictions prevent him from running on a Sunday. However, Liddell is allowed to compete in the 400 metres instead. The story is deceptively complex, Abrahams and Liddell being vastly different characters who face adversity in quite different ways.
The movie also features actors Ian Holm (as Abrahams' coach Sam Mussabini) and Dennis Christopher (as American sprinter Charlie Paddock). The music, which also won the movie an Academy Award, was composed by Vangelis. The other two Oscars were won for screenplay and costumes.