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Little-known fact: In the 1940s, while Germans tortured Jews across Europe and Americans incarcerated Japanese on the West Coast, the Japanese interned in China a group of civilians from Allied countries—including Olympian Eric Liddell.
A devout Christian, Liddell famously switched Olympic track events to avoid running on a Sunday in the 1924 Paris Games. After winning gold in the 400-meter, he returned to his birthplace of China as a missionary.
That’s where the 1981 film Chariots of Fire left off—and where On Wings of Eagles begins.
Starring Joseph Fiennes as Liddell, the new film is a fine tribute to Liddell’s life. After being captured by the Japanese, Liddell and his companions face the dual challenges of surviving and maintaining their faith and integrity.
Liddell, specifically, has opportunities to leave China altogether and reunite with his family. He decides not to each time. At one point he even refuses to eat the extra food a general gives him, preferring instead to distribute it around the camp to others. His behavior prompts a friend’s challenge: “If the shepherd starves, what becomes of his sheep?”
The Great Shepherd is capable of caring for His flock no matter what happens to church leaders on earth, but it’s still an idea worth wrestling with: Where’s the line between sacrificial leadership and self-starvation—physical, mental, or emotional—that causes harm?
Rated PG-13, the film is OK for students old enough to study the Holocaust. But it’s a World War II movie, and a haunting climax depicting the death of a child may give nightmares to adults and teens alike. On Wings of Eagles won’t be the next Chariots, but it’s a fair portrayal of a lesser-known yet powerful story.