The Melbourne Cup has been known in history as being the race that stopped a nation. This horse race has been a mainstay on the Australian calendar since 1861. A day of pageantry, an excuse to wear fancy hats and justification for people to take time off from work to watch horses racing for two-miles around the oval at Flemington is what this event offers. In 2015, Michelle Payne entered the legendary race on Prince of Penzance with the dream of being the first female jockey to win, but at 100 to 1, few thought she could achieve this historic feat.
Growing up as the youngest child in a family of 10 in a horse racing family, Michelle (Teresa Palmer) lived, breathed and loved this challenging sport. Her father, Paddy (Sam Neill), had raised the large family for most of their lives after the death of his wife and the children’s mother. This household led to a tight-knit and competitive atmosphere for all of the children. Not only did it provide a loving home for the Payne's to mature in, but most of the children eventually became jockeys or found their careers in the industry. Despite being a good student, Michelle chose to leave school at 15 years of age to become a jockey.
As she pursued her dream, the young jockey had to work through traditions, discrimination within the sport, a multitude of personal accidents and family tragedies to achieve her goals. With the wisdom of her father, the support of her siblings and the unfailing love of her brother, Stevie (played by the actual Stevie Payne), Michelle continued to work to keep her place on the tracks of Australia. When Darren Weir (Sullivan Stapleton) allowed her to ride Prince of Penzance, his talented, but injury-prone horse, things changed for both athlete and animal. This combination led Michelle to pursue the only dream for most Australian jockeys, to ride in the Melbourne Cup.
History has already been written in the story of Michelle Payne and she is known as the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Even though Rachel Griffiths manages to portray the race day with all of the passion and intensity needed for fans of the sport, the highlight for her directorial debut was focussing on the extraordinary lives of the Payne family. Michele is the centrepiece of the story and Teresa Palmer delivers one of the best performances of her career, but the magic of the film comes when seeing into her relationship with her family. Proving that behind every individual achievement of key sporting figures there is usually a group of people and situations that lead to the athlete achieving their goals.
The Payne’s story shows that nothing in this life of value comes easy, but it can be made more bearable and achievable with the support of family. Sam Neill is in a supporting role, but he does provide the foundational element needed to move this movie from good to great. Griffiths' choice to cast Stevie as himself in the film was brilliant and where Neill provides the strength for the Payne family, it is Stevie who represents the heart and humour. Every cast member proves to provide the support that helps this film to become one of the most inspiring and entertaining stories of the year.
Reel Dialogue: The fine line of stubbornness
Pride and stubbornness can prove to be the key weakness of fathers when it comes to responding to a child’s decisions. Even though he was the driving force behind Michelle’s ambitions as a jockey, Paddy Payne’s stubbornness almost became his daughter’s undoing. To install a tenaciousness in his children was endearing and inspiring, but his stubborn tendencies came off less as tough love than prideful.
It is a fine line between being driven and being prideful. When making decisions in life, do they enhance or damage relationships? When it comes to raising children, this line between tenacity and stubbornness is one worth evaluating and adjusting to ensure connections are built instead of destroyed.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2