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Secretariat: The Impossible True Story

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By

The poster for the new Disney Secretariat movie

The poster of the new Disney movie Secretariat to be released on October 8, 2010.

© Walt Disney Pictures

The Bottom Line

Clearly, Disney has produced an enjoyable, entertaining family movie for the fall season. Fans of racing history should enjoy this version of the Secretariat story. The racing scenes are exciting and well choreographed, John Malkovich's Lucien Laurin was an effective comedy relief, while Diane Lane's portrayal of Penny Chenery Tweedy will steal your heart.

Pros

  • Racing fans as well as those not involved in the sport can both enjoy this movie with their families
  • Diane Lane (Penny Chenery) and John Malkovich (Lucien Laurin) worked well together in contrast
  • Popular "Girl Power" theme should appeal to many audience members
  • It is hoped that the Secretariat story will increase public interest in horse racing

Cons

  • Preakness Stakes was "glossed over" in the form of the Tweedy children watching it on television
  • Racing fans and history buffs may be distracted by several glaring inaccuracies

Description

  • After the success of Seabiscuit in 2003, a series of racing related movies followed: Dreamer, Racing Stripes, and Hidalgo
  • One omission stood out, a story that needed to be told in movie form while the memory of his career was still fresh
  • Finally the dream became reality as the story of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat made it to the silver screen
  • The result is a feel-good family movie, with few surprises for racing fans as the story is mostly accurate.
  • William Nack's book "Secretariat: The Making of a Champion" served as the inspiration for the screenplay written by Mike Rich
  • The racing scenes, as expected were designed to get the audience excited; some at our screening clapped after the Derby win
  • Few people who watch this film will go home disappointed, as this is a great story about a horse and the people around him

Guide Review - Secretariat: The Impossible True Story

Clearly, the acting of Diane Lane, portraying owner Penny Chenery Tweedy, and John Malkovich, playing eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin, carried this film through to its conclusion. Penny was the Denver housewife quickly thrust into the role of a millionaire racehorse owner, after the death of her mother Helen and then her father Christopher who founded the famed Meadow Stable in Virginia. She had to lead a double life, flying back and forth between Colorado and the racetracks and farms of the east coast, while raising her 4 children.

The theme of "girl power", popular nowadays in horse racing with the successes of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, is played up in this movie. Penny finds herself a woman taking on a male-dominated world, having to stare down everybody from the loud-mouthed owner of Secretariat's rival Sham who dismiss her as "just a housewife", boorish hecklers in the stands at the races, pushy reporters who questioned her horse's ability, Ogden Phipps, the richest man in America, and closer to home, her unsupportive husband who pressured her to sell her father's money-losing farm and horses rather than complete the mission of owning the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. In the classic "underdog" storyline, she stands up to them all and wins.

Lucien served as the "comic relief" in the film, whose casual, lackadaisical ways a foil to Penny's serious, ambitious manner. In what was the funniest scene of the movie, Penny managed to convince him to set aside his retirement from training, during a frustrating session at the golf driving range. Professional jockey Otto Thorwarth was cast for the role of jockey Ronnie Turcotte. The only negative we found was when they had to mutter a few lines in French, which clearly was out of their element, and also needed subtitles which were missing.

Although the racing scenes were well done and for the most part accurate, racing fans will see several inaccuracies which may distract their enjoyment of the film. Keeneland Race Course played the part of Belmont Park, and if you have visited both places as we have, they are like night and day. Belmont has gone relatively unchanged since 1973, and could have been used for filming during the summer when the New York circuit is up at Saratoga. Generally the jockey's room is under the stands or near the paddock, but one scene had it appear to be at the end of a shedrow. The horse playing Sham often seemed to be bigger than Secretariat in the race sequences which was the opposite of reality. Using CGI or some other post-processing techniques, Disney was able to reproduce the old Churchill Downs grandstand as it looked in those days, but they also used the outdoor saddling stalls and walking ring, which were built in 1986. These inaccuracies (and we did not list them all) should not affect the enjoyment of the movie for more casual fans of racing or those who do not follow the sport.

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