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Film Review: Ride Like A Girl

Director:    Rachel Griffiths

Cast:    Teresa Palmer, Sam Neill, Stevie Payne, Sullivan Stapleton, Brooke Satchwell, Anneliese Apps, Magda Szubanski, Sophia Forrest, Summer North

Rating:    PG

Running Time:    98

Australian Distributor:      Transmission Films


The glowing Teresa Palmer stars as Michelle Payne, first victorious female Melbourne Cup jockey. Sam Neil plays her stubborn dad Paddy, patriarch of Victoria’s Payne racing family. Michelle’s loyal brother is played by real-life “best strapper in Australia” Stevie Payne (he has Down syndrome), who outshines the large professional cast playing himself. 

The film is directed by Rachel Griffiths who successfully adapts to her first role as director and maintains a tight rein on her crew. Showing knowledge and experience of Hollywood narrative techniques, she calls the shots with confidence. The story blends classic Hollywood storytelling with Australian feelgood family fare.

It is a genuinely sentimental story which should appeal to all ages. You have the family’s country upbringing:  single dad with numerous children, a wedding, a funeral, horses, all leading to a fast climax. But it is mainly a fascinating insight into a determined young woman  playing her part in the sport of kings.  There is a terrific supporting cast playing the real-life Payne family. Griffiths makes sure our hearts warm as two outsiders, Michelle and brother Stevie, overcome all odds to achieve their international Melbourne Cup victory.

Not many people would have known that Michelle was raised by her dad and nine siblings after her mum died when she was just six months old. Also, that Michelle’s elder sister Brigid died after a fall, or that Michelle herself was nearly killed in a horse race fall in 2001 that fractured her skull. It is tearful stuff that really hits home.

This is as straight-forward as any inspirational story can be, one that stays focussed on the inspiration. We know that Michelle rode 100-1 chance Rrince of Penzance to victory in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, stunning the racing world, making global headlines and capturing the hearts of Australians. 

Griffiths is well served by the main acting talent. Teresa Palmer who is perfectly suited to the role of Michelle, while Sam Neill as Payne Snr is his usual, affable and utterly charming best. Sullivan Stapleton is charismatic as the trainer who eventually supports Michelle’s determination and recognises her aptitude as a jockey.  Stevie Payne, of course, is a standout too. There are other small cameo roles played by some familiar faces.

Ride Like A Girl is a result that Griffiths can be proud of and, although we know the result, we get a sense of nervousness and anticipation when watching the race unfold. One still gets chills running down the spine when we see Prince of Penzance dash to the finish line and the crowd erupts with thunderous applause. Knowing the background behind it, it comes across as even more special and emotional.


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