Cup triumph on right track
Rachel Griffiths directs this handsome biopic about Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne with a steady hand — and one eye on the finish line.
The lack of sentimentality with which the actor-turneddirector recounts Payne’s triumph over extraordinary odds will no doubt meet the approval of its gutsy subject, but it also serves its audience well.
Griffiths’ clear intention, with this inspirational drama, is to pay tribute to Payne’s unparalleled athletic feat, but in so doing, she doesn’t gloss over the controversies — such as the jockey’s tendency to test her limits on the track (which resulted in another, 15-meeting suspension for careless riding earlier this year).
The first-time feature director also gives an appropriate weight to Payne’s painful rift with her father, Paddy (Sam Neill), but this is conveyed as much by what is left unsaid as it is in the actual dialogue, and that seems entirely appropriate for the characters involved.
All of which adds up to a contemporary piece of myth-making, told in an authentic Australian vernacular. Certain key scenes, such as the Christmas pudding incident, in which Payne and her brother Stevie polish off said item under the dining room table while the rest of the family is eating their lunch — feel like the stuff of family legend.
Ride Like A Girl documents Payne’s story from her roughbut-loving childhood on a farm near Ballarat, in central Victoria, through to the historic day on which she became the first female jockey ever to win a Melbourne Cup — at 100-1 odds — on Prince Of Penzance.
The film chronicles Michelle’s early life in the tumultuous Payne household — her mother died in a car accident when she was six months old, leaving behind 10 children, all of whom appear to have inherited their father’s love of horses.
Coming from a family of jockeys, it’s a natural choice for Payne to follow in her older siblings’ footsteps. But when her oldest sister, Brigid, dies after a fall, Paddy becomes more cautious. And so his impatient youngest daughter decides to go it alone, only to be ignored by the other trainers.
She spends many cold, dark, early mornings waiting in vain for a ride before finally fast-talking her way into the saddle. Ride Like A Girl portrays Payne as plucky, determined and, well, driven to the point of obsession. Teresa Palmer steps into her character’s stirrups with courage and commitment.
She is supported by Payne’s real-life brother, Stevie, who has Down syndrome — no other actor could have done the role justice.
It would be hard to go wrong with this story, but Griffiths gives it just the right amount of rein.
Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne in Ride Like A Girl and (above) in a scene with Stevie Payne who plays himself.