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Movie Review: Secretariat: The Impossible True Story

Updated on June 23, 2015

Secretariat Was Enthralling

Although I have no interest in horse racing, I was completely enthralled and mesmerized by the latest Disney movie, Secretariat, a story of a champion horse and his owner winning the Triple Crown, the most prestigious prize in the field of running horses. To enjoy this latest Disney offering, you don't have to be into the races. You don't have to even like horses!

The Impossible True Story

Secretariat, starring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery Tweedy, the female protagonist, and John Malkovich, as Lucien Laurn, her eccentric French trainer, is set in the late 60's to early 70's.

The film follows the quest of a female stable owner to keep the family farm, by training a winning horse for the coveted Triple Crown, which culminates in the famous Kentucky Derby race. Movie trailer posters hail Secretariat as the “impossible true story,” a perfect description because it has all the drama and excitement of a made-for-Hollywood fictional blockbuster, but it's a true story.

The movie opens with Mrs. Chereny, Penny's mother, dying, and the family rushing home to attend the funeral, and comfort their father.

What Penny and her brother (Hollis Chenery, played by Dylan Baker) discover is disturbing: their father's mind is slipping and they are losing their family assets horse by horse. Both Hollis and Penny's husband (Jack Tweedy, played by Dylan Walsh) agree that the only sensible thing to do is to sell off the farm.

Mrs. Tweedy, however, disagrees, and enters into the world of horse racing with very little knowledge but a great deal of passion.

Sets like Mad Men

A couple of the most striking characteristics of this film were the sets and the wardrobe. Deliciously sumptous, the sets are a feast for the eyes with realistic details that take you back to that late 60's era seamlessly.

The modular, bright look of the modern Mrs. Tweedy's home, complete with brown shag carpeting in the living room, and a cool pool in the back gives the feeling of success and modernity. This set contrasts with the dark and shadowy setting of her father's home, which is more traditional, symbolizing the heritage of her father's work.

Both of the sets and the costume design are very similar in style to the T.V. Show, Mad Men. Diane Lane, as the protagonist, Penny Tweedy, is stylishly chic in pastel suits and A-line dresses and acts as the perfect feminine counterpoint to the business-only men suited in black suits and ties. John Malcovich, in the role of horse trainer, provides visual shock as the rebellious dresser whose tacky threads are reminiscent of WKRP Cincinnati, salesman, Herb Tarlick.

This was an animal story, but it was not cute!

And unlike some unnamed animal movies also made by Disney and other studios, this so-called animal story is NOT CUTE, in any way, shape or form. There is no deep voiced narrator explaining the horse's feelings and there are no cute kids trying to connect with the tragic heroine creature.

There is no cute at all in this Disney movie, which is why I was quite surprised to find out it was a Walt Disney production. There are kids in the storyline, but they are secondary to this woman and her horse.

Learning her Place

Secretariat is not primarily about a horse. Rather, it's about a woman, a woman who refuses to back down, and give up, when her world is filled with men who would all just love for her to go home and learn her place. From the memorable early scene where she gets the number of a cheating employee, to her ongoing sarcastic banter with her macho competitors, Penny  does anything but learn her place. In fact, she is a surprise to everyone: a lady in the world of cut-throat and very unlady-like competition.

She is defending her family's honour, and fighting for her father's legacy. When the men in the family refuse to step up, she believes she is the one that must take up the slack. 


Definitely worth seeing in the theatres. Compelling and moving, I absolutely loved this movie.


4 stars for Secretariat: The Impossible True Story

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