Ian Holm portrays an athletic coach who is not exactly praised highly simply because of the time the amateur approach to running was the strongly suggested approach. Holm chooses to fully create Sam Mussabini into a very particular, and original character in the film. Sometimes this sort of approach can easily lead to some overacting, but Holm extremely well with making Mussabini an unusual man but still creates a realistic portrait of that man as well.
He has a very particular way about himself that works quite well to establish that old Sam has been a bit of oddity in the athletics world since he was a professional coach. Holm has a nice way about himself showing that Sam certainly has seen it all basically and has been around a long time. There is a quiet intelligence in his performance, that even though he might not always look ti eh knows basically everything there is to know about being a professional runner.
Holm makes Sam a man of his time in the way he walks and talks without ever doing it. There are certainly even moments in the film where you cannot even tell what he is saying exactly. I never minded it though actually because Holm actually made it enhance his character as a whole, and really set the particular Sam in his period. Sam could have been an uninteresting or immaterial character but Holm never allows that to happen do to this realization of Sam as a character.
Holm always has a special charm in his performance that works very well in his scenes with Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams. In these scenes Holm shows a natural knowledge in Sam that shows Sam to be the master of the sport he is, as well as also slowly shows a camaraderie between Abrahams and Sam. He and Cross have a low key but effective chemistry together. Although much of the work together is professional both actors manage to show a mutual respect and friendship the two men have together.
My personal favorite scenes of Holm though come near the end of the film where Sam and Harold achieve their goals together. They are short moments but Holm makes them quietly heartfelt as he honestly portrays just how much this achievement truly means to him. In these short moments Holm carefully lets us know exactly why Sam does what he does, and how he gets the same or even more a thrill from a victory than the runner themselves. This to me is always an enjoyable performance that makes the most his character and only adds to the film itself.