Rachel Griffiths (director)
26 June 2020 (released)
02 July 2020
Those with a more jaded outlook will point out that there’s a lot familiar with the story of Ride Like A Girl, which is true. But after five minutes all that should just disappear as the viewer is caught hook, line and sinker by a wonderful true story of human spirit, bravery and tragedy with dose of comedy too.
The youngest of ten Michelle (Shelly) harbours ambitions to ride horses competitively, which is nothing odd being a member of the Payne family whose father Paddy (Sam Neil) is a horse owner and trainer at the family farm in Ballarat, Australia.
Having lost his wife Paddy is bringing up his children alone and a spirited family they are as we see from the early establishing scenes. Shelly (played by Summer North then Teresa Palmer) has a strong bond with her Down Syndrome brother Stevie (played by Gryffin Morrison and then Stevie Payne) which is lifelong and throughout the film and the pre-end credits.
When sister Brigid (Anneliese Apps) is killed riding, Paddy becomes reluctant to let Shelly go forward and compete in higher profile races. With the death of his wife and daughter on his mind the reason is obvious. This results in Shelly walking away and they are effectively estranged until Shelly has a serious accident thrown from a horse that leaves her seriously injured. It’s a long recovery but the desire to ride and compete is still there and while her siblings are against her, dad this time isn’t.
Shelly finds her equine foil in the Prince of Penzance. With the horse and Stevie, Shelly pushes forward, against and through outdated views and male chauvinism to land the ride she covets most at the Melbourne Cup, even though she isn’t given a chance. The closing sequences of the build-up to and then the race are magnificently composed; thrilling and so deeply moving.
There are three or four strands to the story of Michelle Payne that writers Andrew Knight and Elise McCredie have woven together and that director Rachel Griffiths has expertly juggled. There’s the family unity in the face of tragedy, the relationship that Paddy has with them, explicitly Shelly, and his faith being a devout Catholic.
Intertwining this is Shelly’s own drive to ride and her battles against the sports’ grandees to be taken seriously. It’s also gently comedic at times with the exchanges between Paddy and Stevie and the nuns rushing to the betting shop on the day of the big race.
What the film also gives the audience is the view from the riders perspective with fantastic photography by Martin MGrath who takes us into centre of a horse race with the riders clustered, insults flying, looking for a space that will give them an advantage over their opponents, and leaving no doubt as to how dangerous the sport is.
The acting honours and fairly evenly shared though the focus will be on Neil as the loving, devoted father and Palmer who as Shelly senior is a brave, endlessly passionate woman determined to reach her goals. Neil perfectly portrays a torn man who loves his family but with a protective stubbornness that is almost cruel but also understandable. Palmer is his equal as Shelly. Clearly cut from the same cloth as her father they share a troubling stubbornness, nevertheless determined to take decisions and responsibility for her actions. Also for a first timer there’s some potential for Stevie Payne who has solid comic timing.
It’s a beautiful film that doesn’t shy away from the rawness of tragedy and the danger of the sport while at its centre is a great big beating heart filled with optimism and is genuinely uplifting.
RIDE LIKE A GIRL is now be available to watch/rent on key platforms including Sky Store, Apple TV, Amazon , Google Play, Rakuten, Chili, BT TV, Talk Talk and Virgin.