In 2015, Michelle Payne became the first female jockey ever to win the coveted Melbourne Cup. Ride Like a Girl is her story.
Far more than a feel-good horsey flick, far more than a rags-to-riches Aussie battler tale, Ride Like a Girl is a story about family, equality, and sheer grit. I saw it with a couple of horsey friends, one of whom had been lucky enough to interview one of the Payne sisters about her experiences as a female jockey, and we all agreed it’s a film not to be missed – one that not only captured our hearts but also left us with a lot to think about.
This is Rachel Griffiths’s first time directing a feature film, but you’d never know – she hits all the right notes with this one. The cinematography is absolutely sumptuous, from the intimate close-ups to the panoramic fly-overs. The racing scenes are colourful and chaotic, shot from angles that will have you on the edge of your seat – and wondering where on earth they stuck the camera! Any equestrian will be left drooling over the horseflesh on display, but I have to say I was impressed by the restraint the film demonstrated in not over-romanticising or humanising the horses. They are horses, plain and simple: sometimes athletes to be exercised, conditioned and raced; sometimes life changing, like the Payne family’s pony and Michelle’s Melbourne Cup winner, Prince of Penzance; but most of all, a way of life.
Likewise, the two-legged characters are impressively complex and multi-layered. There are no clear villains and an awful lot of normal, fallible, and often very entertaining human beings, with complicated and believable relationships. Sam Neill’s performance as the Payne children’s father, racing legend Paddy Payne, will have you wishing he could step off the screen and give you a hug, while Teresa Palmer is just perfect as Michelle Payne. Michelle herself had a lot of say in the film, and it shows: there’s so much truth to the family dynamics, as well as the behind-the-scenes training scenes. AND let’s not forget Michelle’s brother, Stevie, who plays himself and just about steals the show!
While the film is not intended to be an unflinching exposé of sexism in the racing industry, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the subject, which is, after all, one of its strongest themes! In racing, as in just about every other horse sport, male and female riders are not separated. Gender is simply not taken into account, as men and women are long proven to be equally capable riders. Yet the sexism shown to Michelle and her sisters, both in real life and in Ride Like a Girl, is deep-set in the racing industry. Female jockeys are frequently discriminated against, from being given worse odds by the bookies to getting less rides to begin with. There is a long way to go before a female jockey winning the Melbourne Cup becomes an unremarkable event.
Michelle Payne, her sisters, and every female jockey in Australia are collectively transforming the racing industry into one where gender equality is a consideration and a goal. This film tells the story of an incredibly determined and tough jockey and the men and women behind her, and is a must-see for any globetrotter.
Have you seen Ride Like a Girl? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!