“Secretariat” Wins at Box Office
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
A few years back my wife and I enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon at Saratoga, watching the ladies in their finery, the men clutching bet tickets, the thoroughbred horses racing around the track. It was a heady experience, joining the crowd, rooting for a favorite horse as it approached the finish line.
You can get your own racing fix at the Tropic Cinema this weekend, where the movie “Secretariat” is playing. This is the story of the horse that won the Triple Crown. Or more specifically about Penny Chenery, the Virginia “housewife” who bred and championed Secretariat to victory despite all odds.
Diane Lane (“Nights at Rodanthe,” “Under the Tuscan Sun”) captures Penny’s flinty determination and conviction of “I’m that right” about the ability of the large chestnut colt that she nicknamed “Big Red.”
John Malkovich (“Burn After Reading,” “The Great Buck Howard”) is delightfully eccentric as Lucien Lauren, the horse’s trainer. Otto Thornwarth plays the jockey who rode Secretariat into the record books – as well as induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, and Fred Dalton Thompson round out the cast, great character actors all.
The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing consists of a series of three races for three-year-old horses – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Only eleven horses have ever won all three. And in 1973 Secretariat was the first to win in twenty-five years, establishing new records that have yet to be broken at the Kentucky Derby and Belmont.
What makes this movie different from “Seabiscuit” (2003) and “Phar Lap” (1983)? Rather than focusing on the horse, we get a sharply etched portrait of Helen Bates “Penny” Tweedy (nee Chenery). In 1983 Penny was the first woman ever admitted as a member of The Jockeys Club. And she served as president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association from 1976 to 1984.
Diane Lane fits into the role of Penny as comfortably as a ladies glove. Nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in “Unfaithful,” she’s a fine actress. Now happily married to actor Josh Brolin, she had a turbulent childhood. She starred in her first movie (“A Little Romance” with Sir Laurence Olivier) at 13. And appeared on the cover of Time Magazine shortly afterwards. Then she was caught up in her parent’s tug-of-war divorce. Her father eventually won custody, taking her to work with him in his New York taxicab, when her mother moved to Georgia. At 15 she ran off to California with actor Christopher Atkins (“Blue Lagoon”), but returned a week later. She eventually went to Hollywood on her own. Getting so-so roles with steamy sex scenes (“Lady Beware,” “The Big Town,” “Knight Moves”), her career stalled. She was married for six years to moody actor Christopher Lambert (“Highlander”).
Now she’s come into her own. Having once made that difficult transition from child star to grown-up star, she’s just now made that equally difficult transition from sexy young thing to mature character – a determined housewife who breaks into the boys’ club of thoroughbred racing.
Secretariat died in 1989 at the age of 19. Penny Chenery has retired to Colorado to be near her children. And Diane Lane does her part in preserving the legend of the horse that did the impossible and the lady who believed in him.
[from Solares Hill]