The heart-rending story of Michelle Payne, as depicted in the film Ride Like A Girl, is one of ability, courage and determination triumphing against the odds.
Michelle, who is played faultlessly by accomplished Adelaide-born actor Teresa Payne, created history in 2015 by becoming the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Yet in her 30 years leading up to that victory her life was littered with tragedy. The last of her family’s 10 children to be born she was only six months old when her mother Mary died in a car crash. That meant her father Paddy, portrayed in his usual truly professional style by Sam Neil, had sole responsibility of raising the children.
A taciturn character Paddy and Michelle became estranged when she left the family farm at Ballarat for Melbourne to further her career as a jockey. Not long afterwards a horrendous race fall at Sandown threatened her life when she suffered a fractured skull and brain bruising. In a film that had many in the audience weeping, her successful fightback from these debilitating injuries to once again ride in races was especially moving.
Another disaster struck the Payne’s in January of 2007 when her sister Brigid died from a heart attack, which was believed to have been the result of coming down in a race the previous year. Through all this Michelle, who is reunited with her father and has the total support of her family, forges her name among Victoria’s top jockeys. Then along comes Prince of Penzance, whose strapper is her brother Stevie.
A sufferer from Down’s Syndrome Stevie plays himself in admirable fashion and is something of a show stealer. Disappointingly towards the climax, considering the basis for the film is Michelle’s Melbourne Cup win, the facts are inexplicably blurred on a number of occasions. For instance Prince of Penzance wins the Moonee Valley Cup, Michelle is suspended for 20 meetings but without explanation is able to ride and win the Melbourne Cup on the gelding 10 days later.
In reality Prince of Penzance won the Moonee Valley Cup in 2014 when Michelle was suspended for causing interference but he did not run in that year’s Melbourne Cup. He finished second to United States in the Moonee Valley Cup in 2015 before going on to win the Melbourne Cup – with Michelle aboard – at 100/1. That, plus a number of other factual errors, were disappointing when the work of Rachel Griffiths as director had so much going for it.
Ride Like A Girl is to be released in cinemas on September 26.