Housewife and mother Penny Chenery agrees to take over her ailing father's Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery -- with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin -- manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years. Written by
Otto Thorwarth, Secretariat's jockey, is a real jockey who was born in Arkansas, but spent his early life in Canada. He had to work to lose his Canadian accent for the film. The other jockeys are also real jockeys; there was much riding to be done and actors couldn't get the horses to perform as required, gauging the distances needed for the various wins, places, and shows. The director says the distances are accurate to within 1/2 length in each recreation. See more »
"It is beautiful to watch a fine horse gallop, the long stride, the rush of the wind as he passesmy heart beats quicker to the thud of the hoofs and I feel his strength." Richard Jefferies
Secretariat is no exception. It's the story of the fastest horse in history, first known as Big Red, who went on to win horse racing's triple crown on 1973, a feat not accomplished in 25 years. After that he sired 600 foals, much to the delight of his investors, the first to invest solely in a stud future.
But then I love Seabiscuit (2003) for it depression-era cheerleading. This is what American filmmakers do well--a rouser with messages, bigscreen chases, and sentimentality for the little guy. Seabiscuit is Rocky for horses, a suspenseful crowd pleaser with characters such as the whisperer played by Chris Cooper, who said, "You don't throw a whole life away just because it's banged up a little." The thought resonates for almost everyone in the film, a tribute to unity of theme and expression of actor.
Similarly there's more than just a racing film in Secretariat; after all National Velvet has a more interesting story and a younger heroine in Elizabeth Taylor, but that was decades ago. This true story is about the grit of Penny Chenery, who took over Virginia's Meadow Stables from her father and beat the male-dominated odds.
This quintessential Disney movie depicts her as tough and loving, a mother and a businesswoman, who can serve as a model for young women aspiring to reach great goals even in this liberated 21st century, which still has a ways to go before it expunges fully the sexism scourge.
The photography is bracing, often putting the camera right by the prancing hoofs or mid-level close to the steed's haunches. Although nothing new here, it is still exciting fare. Because we all know going in that our horse will win the crown, director Randall Wallace is especially successful in keeping us interested and worried for Secretariat.
Disclosure: I like most Hollywood horse-racing stories.
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