Opens: September 26
Genre: Sporting biography
Duration: 90 minutes
The feature-length directorial debut of Australian actor Rachel Griffiths is a feel-good biography of Michelle Payne, who in 2015 became the first ever woman jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.
Teresa Palmer is terrific as the determined jockey initially mentored by her trainer father, Paddy (Sam Neill), the patriarch of a sprawling Ballarat family including so many young jockeys – at least three of them female – that I lost count.
The story depicts Michelle struggling to overcome a stream of obstacles, starting with Paddy’s change of heart about her professional riding, fearing that she isn’t ready. Michelle rebels, viewing her father – perhaps unreasonably – as a villain determined to put a stop to her career.
Elsewhere Ride Like a Girl’s upbeat message is complicated by the fact that in February the trainer Darren Weir (played here by Sullivan Stapleton), the man who chose Payne to ride the horse Prince Of Penzance in the 2015 cup, was disqualified from racing for four years for offences including possession of taser-like devices described by a judge as “instruments of cruelty and implements associated with a high level of cheating.” The film has not been re-edited or re-shot to acknowledge this.
Nobody has suggested Payne or Ride Like a Girl’s creative team knew anything of this (Payne said she had never been aware of or witnessed any illegal activity, while racing stewards said her 2015 win was not part of their investigation into Weir.)
But these true-life events alter the context into which the film is released and the way it is likely to be perceived by at least some potential viewers. A pity, given it tells such a stirring tale.