A Blessed Christmas to ALL!

I was so blessed by Dr. David Andersen's talk at the Mastermedia Christmas party this year. He started by pointing out that the phrase "getting saved" is no longer in fashion. He thinks people don't like to think of themselves as needing to be saved, but he told how he wandered past some bullies and was beaten up when he was in grade school, and how grateful he was when some men in a restaurant across the street saw it happening and rescued him. He exclaimed, "It's GREAT to be saved!"

Then he pointed out that Jesus Christ came into the world to be our Savior, and Dr. Andersen asked us what He came to save us from? Dr. Andersen pointed out that Jesus must have come to save us all from a universal condition, so He didn't come to save us from poverty, because many in the world are wealthy. He didn't come to save us from purposelessness, because many have direction in life.

Then Dr. Andersen pointed out that Romans 3:23 shows us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," and Romans 6:23 shows us the sentence: "For the wages of sin is death..." In at least ten passages of Scripture we see it's not just a one-time death, but eternal punishment.

John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." As the angel said at his birth (Luke 2:10) that is Good News!

We've been so blessed to share this Good News through many projects in many places this year. Here are some highlights:

• On Epiphany (January 6) in NYC Rich performed Views of the Manger and we reported on our trip to Cuba.
• Rich did voices for four audio dramas: The Giant Killer, Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance (all available now) and Escape from the Eagle's Nest (available for pre-order).
• We released one of my one-man plays online for the first time: www.RichDrama.com/BtC.
• Rich did numerous interviews about that.
• Rich performed in several films: "Living Word," The Farmer and the Belle, "All God's Children," and next week "RoboDad."
• Several films in which at least one of us performed were released: "Living Word," "A Matter of Perspective," "One Day," Courageous Love, and two episodes of The King's Messengers.
• Rich won Best Actor in a Short Film at the International Christian Film Festival for his performance in "A Matter of Perspective."
• We made our first short film: "Colonel Papa Cubano."
• Joyce made her film directorial debut ("Milk and Oranges") which Rich wrote.
• Joyce wrote a screenplay, to be announced soon!
• Joyce launched social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.

Though we taught and/or performed in 13 states and more than circled the globe (at least 28,000 miles of travel) this is the first year in our soon to be 20-year-marriage that I (Rich) haven't been able to perform or teach outside of the country. We've felt like that has been an important part of our ministry because of the Great Commission. So we decided to reach the world by giving a free screener of Beyond the Chariots to the first person of each nation -- outside of the US -- who posts the nation where they live at www.RichDrama.com/EveryNation. And... go!

Have a blessed Christmas, EVERYONE!

Enjoy this Christmas story from another angle, produced by Owen Hisle, who was a film student at the Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp after he produced this. "Fulfillment" also stars Zack Lawrence, who directed me in the film In His Steps, and was a founding faculty member of the Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp.

Click the image below, or if you received this in an email, go to www.RichDrama.com/Christmas2017.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.

Sign up for the announcement that registration is open for the 2018 Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp.


I'm very excited to be working with Light Symphony Productions again on this very creative project! I'll play a scientist who has developed a robotic father, and I'll also play the voice of RoboDad! Should be great fun!

The last time I worked with this amazing team I was blessed to win "Best Actor in a Short Film" at the International Christian Film Festival.

I play a lead in Providence, which you can bring to your area.

Interview on The Gate

Last month I did some interviews, ads and station identifiers for long-time friend, George Flores, on The Gate, international internet radio! We had people listening in from all over the US, Haifa, the Ukraine, Germany and more. I did station identifiers with greetings in several different languages. Such fun!

Here's the schedule for the main interview:
December 10, 8:40 AM Eastern
December 11, 9:40 PM Eastern
December 12, 1:30 PM Eastern
December 13, 8:40 AM Eastern
December 14, 9:40 PM Eastern
December 15, 7:40 AM Eastern

Listen via their phone app or via www.IHOPEG.org/thegate.

Here are links to some of the things we talked about:

• My Grandma: www.RichDrama.com/HildaMiller• Big Fish / Little Worm• The Revelation• The Acts• A Clear Leading• Beyond the Chariots (www.RichDrama.com/BtC)
Full list of my playsIsraelJordanRussiaBeijingSingaporeLondonFull list of nations where I've performedBeyond the Mask• Providence• In His Steps• Alone Yet Not Alone

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.


Joyce and I will be joining my former students William and Morgan Willer who are directing and producing the short film, "There."

Joyce will serve on crew, and I'll play a father in search of his daughter during a storm and finds that he has to decide between getting her to safety and bringing a woman in labor to the hospital in his two-seat car.

They created this brilliant fundraising video for the project. Click below to watch it, or if you're receiving this via email visit www.RichDrama.com/There.

William and Morgan attended the Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp in 2016. William was on the filmmaking side, and Morgan was one of my actors. Our film for that year, "Felicia's Pledge" was just posted: www.RichDrama.com/FeliciasPledge. This summer the siblings switched places and I got to work with William. Our short film "Milk and Oranges" is forthcoming. Sign up for the announcement.

We'll also be joined by another Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp alumna, Rebekah Stought. She did both camps in the summer of 2015, when we offered two week-long camps back-to-back. Click here to see the film Rebekah directed and the two in which she performed.

Sign up for the announcement that registration is open for the 2018 Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp.

More Divine Appointments!

I didn’t notice it until just now, but less than an hour BEFORE I posted my grandma’s interview about her prison ministry today, I received a link to the testimony of a prison ministry recipient below.

I met Buckie on a train last week. I made the decision to take that train, though it had a longer route than another option, because I wouldn’t need to transfer. I would have been on a much earlier train had I not stopped for dim sum with colleagues after recording a song.

So, on the train and in the car I was supposed to be on, I overheard someone giving his testimony to a friend about having found the Lord in prison. So I was praying. When the Christian got up for his stop I handed him my card and asked if his testimony was online. So it was a #DivineAppointment on the train and in the timing of him sending the testimony! I picked up the baton and kept sharing with the other man about the Lord for a few more stops.

Hope you enjoy it. You can watch it below or if you’re receiving this via email, visit www.Blog.RichDrama.com (Thanksgiving Day).

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.

Thankful for this memory...

Hope you're having a wonderful Thanksgiving!

This interview with Ruth Friesen and my grandmother, Hilda Miller, is in 1987. I digitized it from a VHS cassette in 2009, and searched the web for Ruth Friesen and her show, Beauty of Life. I wanted to get her blessing to post the program, but there was no online record of the show’s name paired with her name. 

Recently my wife, Joyce, and I have been involved with Christian Union’s Great Experiment. We’ve committed to five disciplines for a month, and one of them is asking the Lord every morning what he wants us to do that day. Joyce calls it a concrete kindness for the Lord. Two days ago I felt like the Lord was asking me to look into posting this interview. This time the internet pulled up Ruth’s name in her obituary. She died this April. I reached out to her family by Facebook and noticed that they’re friends with Grandma’s niece’s husband. I reached out to him, and he said the son-in-law just Friended him on Facebook! Soon the family got back to me with their blessing, and then I saw why the Lord had prompted me now. One of Ruth’s daughters pointed out that this will be their family’s first Thanksgiving without her mother. I'm so glad they'll have this wonderful memory to share today.

The interview is mostly about Grandma’s prison ministry, and it reminded me that I was 10 years old when Grandma first brought me in with her to minister to the first prisoner she mentions. I continued to go with her from time to time throughout the rest of her ministry. 

Throughout my career I’ve performed and taught in a few prisons, and I know that was on my heart because of Grandma's prison ministry. My most dramatic encounter was earlier this year in the gang unit on Riker’s Island. 

Grandma talks about how much energy the Lord was giving her, but within a year she sensed him telling her, “Get your affairs in order.” As a high schooler I remember thinking, “Does God want her to clean her room?” July of 1988 she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The Lord kept shining through her right to the end, which was three months later. She was a tremendous witness to the doctors and nurses attending her. One of the nurses told me how she was feeling a bit down one day, and there was Grandma, jaundiced and taking her final breaths to encourage her. 

I count Grandma my greatest spiritual mentor and pray I can encourage others right to the end.

For those of you who watch this who aren’t family, I can’t expect that you’ll be as blessed as we are by this interview. I’m writing this after just having seen it for the first time in eight years, and I’m a blubbering mess! I do pray it will give you a sense of gratitude for family members and friends who have represented the Lord well to you. 

Watch the video below, or if you're receiving this via email go to www.Blog.RichDrama.com (Thanksgiving Day).

For more information on Grandma’s mission work in Kenya click here.

To read about the miracle that kickstarted Grandma's ministry click here.

To find out more about a relationship with the Lord, visit www.RichDrama.com/MyPassion.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.

The Sword of the Spirit Interview

This morning I got to chat with with Donald James Parker on his first video interview for The Sword of the Spirit. You can watch below, or if you're receiving this via email, visit www.Blog.RichDrama.com.

Here are links to some of the things I mentioned:
Beyond the Chariots
Donald James Parker joined us for the
premiere of Providence.
Beyond the Mask
Alone Yet Not Alone
The Unexpected Bar Mitzvah

My other films
Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp
Lamplighter Guild
The Giant Killer and Escape from the Eagle's Nest
The Salvation Army Territorial Arts Ministry Conservatory
My Workshops
Schools where I've taught
• In Chariots of Fire it was Jackson Sholz who hands Eric Liddell the piece of paper saying, "In the old book it says: He who honors me, I will honor.” (I Samuel 2:30) In reality it was an American masseur who gave him the paper.
Eric Liddell Centre
On Wings of Eagles
Judah Ben Hur, the musical in which I performed in Singapore
Drama Evangelist for the Church of the Nazarene
My bride, Joyce's performances
Eric Liddell's student, H. K. Cheng
Eric Liddell's daughters
What it means to live in relationship with the Lord

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.

All God's Children

Robert Puncher played our 21st screen child.
Joyce and I performed in this short film by Joseph Holmes. Joyce played an anxious woman, and I got to play the role of God.

Though we didn't play husband and wife. Her character had a son, and I played [Spoiler alert! Highlight the following text to see my role: the Heavenly Father of the young man], so we're counting him as our 21st screen child.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.

Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

Eric Metaxas, who kindly let us use his testimony for a site we set up for people we encountered in Russia during the Sochi Olympics (www.WhoistheFish.com), has written a brief but thorough chapter on Eric Liddell in this book featuring six other luminaries in the Kingdom of God. Metaxas is a skilled writer, and he brought me to tears with material I’ve known for years. I was also delighted by some surprises.

He found an interview with Horatio Fitch, who raced Liddell in the 400 meters at the Paris Olympics. Fitch had broken the world record in one of the semi-final heats, and in his interview in 1984 Fitch said, “Our coach told me not to worry about Liddell because he was a sprinter, and he’d pass out 50 yards from the finish.” The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire shows how Liddell was expected to prove himself the fastest man alive in the 100 meters, but refused to run a heat on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Liddell ended up breaking Fitch’s world record in the 400 meters, beating him by five meters. It was decades before the spread between first and second in that race was greater.

The new film about Liddell, On Wings of Eagles, shows him being challenged to run on a Sunday in the internment camp in which he was incarcerated in China, and the movie does not really flesh out that challenge. I had been meaning to look up more about Liddell refereeing athletic events on Sundays because fights were breaking out when he wasn’t there. Metaxas captures that with a quote from Joyce Stranks Cotterill, who later married one of Eric’s roommates in the internment camp, Joe Cotterill. Joyce said Liddell

came to the feeling that a need existed, [and] it was the Christlike thing to do to let them play with the equipment and to be with them…because it was more Christlike to do it than to [follow] the letter of the law and let them run amok by themselves.

In the new film Eric’s reason to run was also more Christlike than following the letter of the law, in fact he saw it as a matter of life and death. Joseph Fiennes (who plays Liddell in the film) does a fine job carrying the weight of the challenge in his countenance. I was just disappointed that it wasn’t explored more in the film.

My favorite discovery in Metaxas’ book comes from a blog post quoting Eric’s teacher in college (high school in the American system), A. P. Cullen. I call him Uncle Rooper in my one-man play about Liddell, Beyond the Chariots. It was a childhood nickname that somehow followed him into adulthood. Eric followed him to China where they taught alongside each other, and they were later imprisoned together in the Japanese internment camp. Cullen recorded what he said at Liddell’s funeral:

He was literally God-Controlled, in his thoughts, judgements, actions, words to an extent I have never seen surpassed, and rarely seen equalled. Every morning he rose early to pray and read the Bible in silence: talking and listening to God, pondering the day ahead and often smiling as if at a private joke.

Metaxas does a brilliant job summarizing every chapter of Liddell’s life but one. There’s no mention of Liddell’s world-class running that continued in China. Beyond the Chariots portrays how he tied the winning times for the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 at a meet in China with Olympic athletes from France and Japan. For a fuller exploration of those athletic exploits I recommend David McCasland’s Pure Gold: Eric Liddell and John Keddie’s Running the Race. I count McCasland’s the authoritative biography on Liddell, and Keddie was a Scottish runner himself and tied Eric’s time on at least one track.

I believe the fact that Liddell continued to run at world-class speed after moving to China only one year after winning Olympic gold amplifies his sacrifice to leave all of that glory behind to give his all to the One who gave His all for him.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story in Beyond the Chariots. Watch it online and book a live performance.

Beyond the Chariots featured on ChristianCinema.com Facebook page

ChristianCinema.com is featuring my one-man play Beyond the Chariots on their Facebook page today! We'd be ever so grateful if you'd give it a Like and a share! The more likes and shares the more of their core base will see it in their news feed. This is our greatest opportunity to reach the maximum audience. Click here.

Bless you!

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story by arranging for a public license or by booking a live performance of Beyond the Chariots.

Friday's chat after On Wings of Eagles

We were delighted to rewatch On Wings of Eagles debut on the East Coast and to field questions afterward.

You can hear the questions and answers below, or if you're receiving this via email you'll find it at the top of www.blog.richdrama.com.

Unfortunately I miscalculated how much space was left on my recorder, and it ran out just before a woman in attendance shared how she had the theme from Chariots of Fire played at her wedding!

Seeing it as second time there were a number of details that caught my eye and ear that I'd missed the first time around.

Early on there's a glimpse of A Tale of Two Cities, which Eric Liddell loved because of the Christ-like giving of one life for another. He was memorizing that chapter while pumping water for people in the camp.

There's a line in which Flo says, "I know what kind of a man I married," and this time through it reminded me of something I'd just read in David McCasland's Pure Gold: Eric Liddell. McCasland made the comment that before she married Eric she never hear anyone say a negative thing about him. In all the research I've done, and in all the dozens of people I've met who remember him, I can't recall a single negative statement about him!

I'm doing one more talkback after tomorrow's 11am screening. Find details and my full review of the film at www.RichDrama.com/OnWingsOfEagles.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story at www.RichDrama.com/BtC or by booking a public screening or live performance.

Beyond the Chariots is now online!

Click for trailer of Beyond the Chariots at the Singapore Expo.
I'm very excited to announce that Beyond the Chariots is now ready to rent or purchase at www.RichDrama.com/BtC!

For licensing of group screenings or to book a live performance of Beyond the Chariots visit www.RichDrama.com/Booking.

Beyond the Chariots at the Singapore Expo

This is the first time I've released one of my one-man plays to the general public.

This performance of Beyond the Chariots was filmed live at the Singapore Expo for about 5,600 on the heels of the Youth Olympics.

The four-time Academy Award-winning film Chariots Of Fire tells how Eric Liddell refused to run the 100 meters in the 1924 Paris Olympics because a qualifying heat was held on a Sunday. Instead he ran the 400 meters, a race in which he wasn't expected to place. He finished it five meters ahead of the favorite, winning the gold and breaking the world record.

My one-man play, Beyond the Chariots, picks up where the film left off: Leaving fame and fortune behind, Eric runs his greatest race, as a missionary to war-torn China.

The event, which was hosted by Faith Community Baptist Church, was closed by Rev. Eugene Seow with rousing comments on themes from the play and Eric Liddell's life.

There's now a new film covering Eric Liddell's last years, On Wings of Eagles. It opens November 3 in theaters and online, and I'll will be speaking after two of the NYC screenings. Find out more and read my review of the film at www.RichDrama.com/OnWingsOfEagles.

Articles about the live performances
The Shanghai DailyThe Flying Scotsman's China days
The Shanghai StarOlympic champion inspires one-man play
National Catholic ReporterRich Swingle acts out his ministry

I’m not sure which was better: the writing or the acting.
—Robert Fresco
Academy Award-winning filmmaker for Chechoslovakia 1968

At the Christian Worldview
Film Festival, 2016.
Courtesy Evergreen Media Productions.
We all need a reminder of what God can do through a devoted soul, and there is no better way to draw close to that than by watching Rich Swingle perform this miraculous one-man show. It's not just the layers Rich brings out of the characters, not just his command as an actor playing multiple roles, it isn't just the fine writing -- it's that God's spirit is present from beginning to end as Rich draws us into Eric Liddell's heart. I marvel at the depth of this performance and the power in this play. As a former runner, I loved how the intensity of running was captured on a small stage. Beyond the Chariots will take you through joy, pain, and redemption with laughs along the way. What it will not do is leave you untouched.
--Joan Bauer, novelist
Author of Hope Was HereStand Tall, and Rules of the Road
Awards include: Newbery Honor Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, the Christopher Award

...a fine story, lovingly and energetically told.
—The Scotsman

...the acting capabilities on show in this one-man show...were...astounding...

I have just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, having seen Beyond the Chariots. I thought it was BRILLIANT and marvelously performed. I would like to know if there are any plans to perform it in London?
—Susan Beck

Get everyone to see this that you can!
—Bobby Grayson
Emmy Award-winning makeup artist for Saturday Night Live

I was impressed with Rich’s work as an actor and producer for Beyond the Chariots.  Every moment was skillful.
—Max McLean

Great performance--authentic, moving, thought provoking! Beyond the Chariots grips you with Eric Liddell’s story of success to significance. 
Dr. James Hudson Taylor III
Great-grandson of Hudson Taylor, who founded the China Inland Mission, now Overseas Mission Fellowship International
When he was a boy, Dr. Taylor was in the internment camp with Eric Liddell.

(Rich has) exuberance and high energy in the portrayal of several well-defined characters of the piece. This guy is REALLY talented!
—Felicia Lopes
General Manager, Drama Desk Awards
President, 5 Stone Productions, LLC

If you need an event that will inspire believers in Christ, draw seekers to Christ, entertain all and amaze everyone, this is it!
—Susan Somerville Brown
CATS on Broadway

This is going to blow you away! I've seen Chariots of Fire about 20 times, but I think this is more interesting.
—Chris White
Associate Pastor
Trail Christian Fellowship
Shady Cove, OR

Swingle's one-man, high-energy... play...won him many hearts.
—David Nadeau, The Capital, Three Hills, Alberta, Canada

I cannot possibly express how much last night's event moved me, apart from your amazing talent and marvelous dramatic presentation. Having never known my father, I have... looked for authentic experiences that confirm my impressions of him as a man. "Beyond the Chariots" made you feel the intensity and the "blood, sweat and tears" of my Father's life. It was wonderful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

—Maureen (Liddell) Moore

Dr. James Hudson Taylor, III, wrote an informational tribute to Eric Liddell for our Off-Broadway program, which you can read here. For a list of books by and about Eric Liddell visit www.EricLiddell.org/ericliddell/books.

For more comments about Rich's work visit What people are saying.
If you've seen Beyond the Chariots, feel free to leave a comment below...
For more on Rich's work, visit RichDrama.com.

For licensing of group screenings or to book a live performance of Beyond the Chariots visit Beyond the Chariots.

Interview on CHINAmerica Radio

I did a radio interview for CHINAmerica Radio on Wednesday. I spoke about my one-man play telling the post-Chariots of Fire story of Eric Liddell. I also mentioned that I'll be speaking after two screenings of the new film on Liddell on November 3 and 4. You can find my review and details about the screenings of On Wings of Eagles at www.RichDrama.com/Wings.

The interview will air around the world on www.CHINAmericaRadio.com this Sunday at 10am Eastern, but you can hear it now by clicking this link.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story by booking Beyond the Chariots.

Yale hosts Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray to Discuss Truth in a Post-Truth World

We live in a post-truth culture. Abdu Murray defined that as "a culture that elevates feelings and preferences over facts and truth." He and Ravi Zacharias engaged the Yale campus in a lively discussion about truth.

When Joyce and I were staying near the Yale campus a couple of years ago Joyce got me a T-shirt with the university's emblem. A few months ago a young man asked me what the letters were. Turns out they spell Urim v'Thummim, the stones the high priest would carry behind the breastplate to seek the Lord's direction. The Hebrew phrase was added to the Yale seal by Rev. Ezra Stiles, the university's president from 1778 to 1795, who also required freshmen to study Hebrew. It was only required of upperclassmen at Harvard. Urim vThummim is translated into their Latin motto, Lux et veritas, Light and Truth. How appropriate that these world-class speakers were brought there to discuss how our culture's approach to truth pales in the Light of Truth:
Yale Open Forum: Zacharias and Murray Discuss Relationship Between Truth and Freedom, Evidence for Christian Worldview 

As the Christian Union grows on the Yale campus, I'm praying that the school will return to its roots.

You can watch the entire event below, or if you're reading this in an email click here.

If you don't have time to see the whole program you should at least scroll through the Tweets of things they said.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story by booking Beyond the Chariots.

Reveal the Christ

This morning I open our service at Westchester Chapel telling where I got my dashiki (what I'm wearing in the photo to the left). The fuller story can be found at www.RichDrama.com/Njeri. I share about our current Bible study, “Adjust Our Attitudes” – a study on the Beatitudes, and about my review of On Wings of Eagles, the new film about Eric Liddell. I read from Liddell’s book, The Disciplines of the Christian Life. Click for details on the screenings on November 3 and 4. I'll field questions about Eric Liddell after the film. I also mention Compassion International, who I represent when I perform my 1-man plays.

Dr. Linda Warren teaches on Matthew 3:13-17, the baptism of Jesus. Unfortunately, there was a technical error, and recording was interrupted. Dr. Linda approved for me and Joyce to summarize the end of the sermon.

John C. kicks off Operation Christmas Child box packing, and Joyce leads the community in prayer.

Click the arrow below, or if you're reading this in an email you can click this link, to play the service:

This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

If you want to more about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ visit www.WestchesterChapel.org/Salvation.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story by booking Beyond the Chariots.


On Wings of Eagles

A new film about Eric Liddell is being released on November 3 in select theaters and online simultaneously. I'll be fielding questions after two of the screenings in NYC.

This is an answer to a prayer I've been praying since 1981 when Chariots of Fire won four Academy Awards. I wanted to know more about what the supertitles ending Chariots of Fire hinted at: “Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of World War II. All of Scotland mourned.”

Click here for more about my connection to Eric Liddell's story.

In the year 2000 I started researching for Beyond the Chariots, my one-man play that tells the rest of the Chariots of Fire story from the perspective of Eric Liddell. My performance of the play at the Singapore Expo is now available: www.RichDrama.com/BtC.

Since I first started my research at the Eric Liddell Centre in Edinburgh I've tracked no less than seven attempts (including one of my own) to tell more of Eric Liddell's story on the big screen, so I'm overjoyed that this one finally made it across the finish line... but being so tied to the story, I feel let down on certain fronts.

Before I get to that, there is plenty to love about On Wings of EaglesI'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but there are a few things I just have to mention....

Joseph Fiennes portrays Eric Liddell
coaching his track team from the
Tientsin Anglo-Chinese College.
Xu Niu is far left.
Though I did submit for the role, I'm completely thrilled with Joseph Fiennes' portrayal of one of my lifelong heroes. He captured the good natured charm and indefatigable joy I've picked up in the biographies and interviews with more than a dozen people who remember Liddell.

On Wings of Eagles is a total reworking of a film entitled The Last Race, which was released in Hong Kong and China last year. Producers Jim Green and Mark Bacino told me they took the raw footage and have reworked the storyline and introduced a narrator, the older voice of Xu Niu (played by Shawn Dou on screen and voiced by the older Bruce Locke). Though I haven't seen The Last Race, from descriptions I've heard I believe this is a much better film for Western audiences.

After my performance in Hong Kong
on 08/08/08, the opening day of the
Beijing Olympics with Leone and
Jim "Jamey" Hudson Taylor, III,
Chuck Allison, Steve Wible, and
H. K. Cheng.
Xu Niu is, from what I can tell, a fictionalized runner on Liddell's track team at the Tientsin Anglo-Chinese College. He follows Liddell throughout the story. In my play I also have a fictional student of Liddell's in a pivotal role. I call him Mai Ker. An actual former student of Liddell, H. K. Cheng, saw a couple of my performances of the play in Hong Kong, and after one of those performances he was kind enough to do an interview, which we hope to release soon. I asked him if the fictional Mai Ker was similar to any of Liddell's actual students. He immediately thought of a classmate!

As a young runner I was inspired by Eric Liddell the athlete. As a Christian I loved how Chariots of Fire showed Liddell refusing to run on a Sunday in the 100m, where he might have proven that he was the fastest man alive. Instead he trained for the 400m and broke the world record at that distance.

One of the things I love most about On Wings of Eagles is that it shows Liddell turning away from fame and fortune that was promised after his Olympic success to minister to the people who nearly killed his family shortly after his birth during the Boxer Rebellion. Jacob Shams in his otherwise excellent review of the new film gets one thing wrong. He says, "...after his racing days were over, Liddell returned to the home of his birth, China..." Liddell's racing days were far from over! He broke the world record at the Paris Olympics when he was 22, and he left for China the very next year. I'll post more on Liddell's athletic accomplishments in China later, but the short version is that during a meet in China hosted by Japan for the Emperor's coronation, Liddell tied some of the winning times set in the 1928 Olympics earlier that year.

Liddell (Fiennes) races against
Chen Quan (Simon Twu).
Though the new film never shows Liddell running in his prime, there are two races, and in both Fiennes does a great job of showing him run beyond what his meager rations should allow. At one point we see him sharing his rations with children, which is a beautiful picture of who he was. At another point eggshells are being ground, and, indeed, they would add shells to meals to get every bit of protein they could. Doctors in the camp told Liddell they weren't eating enough for the youth to take place in athletics, but Liddell said without their bodies engaged, their souls would wither.

Fiennes portrays Liddell as a science
teacher at the
Tientsin Anglo-Chinese College.
The new film is shot in China, in Tianjin (spelled Tientsin when the story takes place), where Liddell taught science (not English as Shams says in his review), and in Weifang (spelled Weihsien when the story takes place), in the actual compound where Eric Liddell and his fellow Allied prisoners spent the end of World War II. There are a couple of scenes summarizing Liddell's life as a teacher and missionary before it cuts to him on board a ship with his family before it disembarks, carrying his wife Flo and daughters Patricia and Heather to their family home in Toronto. Flo (Elizabeth Arends, who made no attempt at a Canadian accent) was also pregnant with Maureen, now Maureen Moore. After seeing one of my performances of Beyond the Chariots, she described that first trip as being in a cab with the windows rolled up. I was blessed to see the photo of Maureen as a baby take such a prominent place in the storyline, as Liddell was separated from his family during his final years.

The farewell on the ship is a scene that may have been inspired by the Prologue in my favorite biography on Liddell, Pure Gold, by David McCasland, who saw my play and set up a tour of Tianjin for usI'll post more on that later. In both the biography and the movie, it is quite a moving scene.

It's not long (in the film and in reality) before Pearl Harbor is bombed and citizens of all Allied nations are put into internment camps. I performed my play for Jim "Jamey" Hudson Taylor III, the great grandson of the prominent missionary to China. Jamey, his three siblings and his grandfather were in the internment camp with "Uncle Eric," as all the students called him. After two of the three performances of my play Jamey saw in Hong Kong, he described how Uncle Eric was a father figure to so many children who were separated from their families. The new film captures this, in part with a sign Jamey Taylor mentioned to me. There were so many visits to Uncle Eric's flat that his roommate put up a sign indicating "Uncle Eric is IN" or "Uncle Eric is OUT."

Yoshinori Yumoto
(Shigeo Kobayashi)
There's a moment in the film that a Japanese officer, Yoshinori Yumoto (played by Shigeo Kobayashi), interrupts a wedding ceremony that Uncle Eric is conducting. He takes the wedding rings from the couple. Though it's a fictional element of the story, it reminded me of how Jamey told me the Japanese put labels on people and things that read, "Property of the Japanese."

The couple is separated when they're brought into the internment camp, but the new groom insists on married housing. Yoshinori Yumoto asks for proof that they are married, but of course he's taken their rings. Uncle Eric says, "What God has joined together let no man put asunder." Yoshinori Yumoto tells him, "My emperor is the god here." That much is in the trailer you can see below. It's Uncle Eric's response that is one of my favorite moments in the film on a number of different levels. I'm planning to talk about that after the NYC screenings.

From Stephen Metcalf's interview in
Olympic Hero in China.
I love that there is an allusion in the new film to praying for their captors. Uncle Eric taught often on the Sermon on the Mount, and dedicates the better part of a chapter to it in his book The Disciplines of the Christian Life. In Olympic Hero in China, the documentary I helped create and for which I do the English narration, Stephen Metcalf, who was a young runner in the internment camp, said that one day Uncle Eric was teaching them the passage from the Sermon on the Mount that says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...." Metcalf said that Uncle Eric said, "'Prayer changes the whole situation. When you hate somebody, you're self-centered. When you pray for someone you become God-centered.' And so he said, 'I've been getting up early and praying for the Japanese.' And he challenged us to pray for the Japanese." Metcalf took up the challenge, and after carrying Uncle Eric's coffin to the grave he said, "I promised God that if I came out alive, I would go to Japan as a missionary like Eric." Metcalf served as a missionary to Japan for 40 years. 

The Music Department of On Wings of Eagles had a high bar set for them since Vangelis won the Oscar for his soundtrack to Chariots of Fire. My brother and I listened to the record the night before every cross-country and track meet. The new film's orchestrator, Steve Greer, arranged for a live orchestra in Macedonia to perform the music, and I think they did a wonderful job. There were two songs in particular that brought joy to my heart.

From Maureen Liddell Moore's
interview in
Olympic Hero in China.
The first was "The Ninety and Nine." In Olympic Hero in China, Maureen tells the story beautifully of how, as a young boy, her father would always ask to sing that hymn about the story Jesus told of the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost. Young Eric would always cry when the family sang it. Maureen said, "...it helped me to understand that even as a young child my father had a strong, strong desire to reach out and touch people with the message that they were all loved and they would all be safe and they could all come home."

The second song that moved me was "Be Still My Soul." It was Uncle Eric's favorite hymn, and the new film introduces it early and it has a prominent place in the end.

This brings me to my disappointments with the film. Whenever a story is taken out of history and told as a movie there must be choices to fictionalize certain elements in order to make it work in the format of cinema. Sometimes those choices upset those who know the real story well. After a performance of Beyond the Chariots in Milwaukee, an audience member Lucy Storch gave me two letters she received from Uncle Eric's sister, Jenny Somerville. She said, "The girl playing myself (Cheryl Campbell) was nothing like me! I was never against my brother running....The scriptwriter (Colin Welland, who won the Oscar for it) said you need a conflict in a film, so I was the conflict!"

With the eldest Liddell daughters and
their husbands after one of my
performances in Toronto.
Though the use of "Be Still My Soul" at the end of On Wings of Eagles has its own artistic beauty, I missed the beauty of what actually happened. Uncle Eric's middle daughter, Heather Ingham, told me the family still has the slip of paper upon which her father wrote down the hymn's title while he lay dying in the internment camp's makeshift hospital. That slip of paper was delivered to someone in the Salvation Army band (alluded to in the film by a trumpet we see lying around in one scene). Prisoners were allowed to bring a few personal items into the camp, and band members had each brought their instrument. They played that hymn outside Uncle Eric's window on at least one of his final days. I'll post more about the Salvation Army band later.

At a certain point in the new film, Xu Niu's subtitles indicate that he used the word hell as an expletive. I was sorry to see this because hell is a real place, and no matter how the cultural narrative downplays it, it is not temporary or benign. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates it is a lukewarm lake of fire. Though the use of the word was used to give shape to Xu Niu's character arc, I think it's a shame that the word was used in a film that should attract impressionable youths.

Early on in the film we see Uncle Eric looking the other way when a bribe being given. Even if such a moment occurred, with only 90 minutes to flesh out his life, I think it was a very poor choice to show him benefiting from an illegal act without speaking against it.

In another moment Uncle Eric is forced to run on a Sunday. It is true that he eventually decided to referee games on Sundays in the internment camp because, without his presence, fights were breaking out. But to hear the challenge without fleshing out the mental anguish that would have gone into such a choice is wrong. I hope audiences reflect on the fact that the stakes were much higher than the personal glory Uncle Eric walked away from at the Paris Olympics.

Liddell (Fiennes) in the church of the
internment camp, which was
originally a seminary.
My biggest problem with the film is a single sentence. Xu Niu describes "Uncle Eric's message: His faith in the essential goodness of mankind touched the edge of my mortal soul." After spending the entire film showing, often in very creative ways, that every good work Eric Liddell did was through the inspiration and by the power of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, this sentence reverses and undermines it all! As a Christian Uncle Eric most certainly did not have faith in the essential goodness of mankind. He believed, as all orthodox Christians do, in the fallen nature of mankind and our need for a Savior.

At the moment that Xu Niu says, "Uncle Eric's message..." we're seeing a tight shot of the Cross. It is my prayer that viewers see the statement in the full Truth of that image: Uncle's Eric had faith that through the Cross we all have hope of goodness. As 1 Peter 2:24 says, "He (Jesus Christ) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (the Cross), that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."

If people miss that, I pray they'll see the statement about Uncle Eric's message as an observation by someone on his way to seeing his need for a Savior.

If you see your need for a Savior, you can reach out right now to the only One who bridges the gap between fallen humans and a Holy God: Jesus Christ. Visit www.RichDrama.com/MyPassion for more information.

I'll speak and take questions after two NYC screenings of On Wings of Eagles on November 3 and 4 at Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St., Manhattan. We're planning to record the Q/A session, so if you're outside the NYC area, post your questions in a comment below, and if there's time I'll answer questions that are posted here.

Here's the complete list of theaters showing it, starting November 3:

1. Kansas City, MO; Barrywoods 24

2. Atlanta, GA; Southlake Pavilion 24

3. Cleveland/Akron/Canton/Solon, OH; Solon 16

4. Philadelphia, PA; Cherry Hill 24

5. Denver, CO; Highlands Ranch 24

6. Houston, TX; Gulf Point 30

7. Dallas, TX; Mesquite 30

8. San Francisco, CA; Deer Valley Stadium 16

9. Pasadena, CA; Laemmle Pasadena 7

10. Manhattan, NY: Cinema Village

Viewers should know:
* The word hell is used as an expletive.
* "My G_d" and "da_ _it."
* War violence.
  -A young boy is blown up.
  -[SPOILER ALERT] Another young boy is electrocuted and it is said that he will stay on the hot wires for a week. A real electrocution in the camp probably inspired this fictional element.

See the trailer below, or if you're reading this in an email visit www.RichDrama.com/OnWingsOfEagles.

See the rest of Olympic champion Eric Liddell's Chariots of Fire story by watching it online or booking a live performance of Beyond the Chariots.