Secretariat shows there’s still room for screenwriters who love telling “old fashion” stories that recast earlier times as happier times where pluck and luck, and sheer determination, can make the winner.


For anyone young or old living in the early 70s—even if you knew absolutely nothing about horse racing—everyone knew Secretariat. The 1973 Triple Crown Winner (three races in five weeks: Preakness, Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes—Secretariat won the latter by 31 lengths) made the covers of Time and Newsweek in his day and continues to be called the greatest horse ever. So 37 years seems a good time to be both nostalgic and introduce the Secretariat story to those who don’t know it.

Diane Lane plays Penny Tweedy Chenery who splits her time between the East Coast to run the family horse farm and her home with husband (Nip/Tuck’s Dylan Walsh) and four children, as the health of her father (played by Scott Glenn) fails. Against the protestations of her brother and husband, Chenery, who wins “Big Red” (Secretariat) in a coin toss, sees him through a successful syndication and the big wins against a backdrop of potential financial calamity.

Along the way she engages the at-first reluctant trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), portrayed as a bit of a curmudgeon with a flair for flamboyant clothing (a flair which morphs into stylish dressing of good taste as the film progresses), and jockey Ron Turcotte (portrayed by Otto Thorwarth, a real-life jockey). There also are Penny’s stalwart supporters, groomer Eddie Sweat (played by Nelsan Ellis from HBO’s True Blood) and assistant Miss Ham (played by the recognizable character actress Margo Martindale).

Supporting cast also includes James Cromwell, Fred Thompson, and Kevin Connolly as a goofy, “horse-struck” reporter. Secretariat is played primarily by two horses, a six-year-old Kentuckian and a seven-year-old Oklahoman, cast from more than 1,000 horses.

While there’s been the usual discussion associated with fact-based movies as to how much literary license has been taken, along with a very bizarre rant on salon.com (whose reviewer slammed Secretariat, calling it “a gorgeous, creepy American myth” and “a Tea Party-flavored, Christian-friendly yarn”), I think it’s hard to criticize a nice movie about a horse.

Horse movies from Seabiscuit, Phar Lap, and National Velvet have a special place in the hearts of movie viewers, and Secretariat may end up so as well. Centered around Lane’s elegant performance, Secretariat is positive and inspiring—certainly a good way to spend 116 minutes if you need a lift! (It’s most fun to see the costume designer’s take on 70s apparel too; I loved how she dressed Lane for the role.)

3 of 5 Purple Pencils

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  1. Brigitte 7 years ago

    Great review! My daughter is a 9 year old horse lover and can’t wait to see this.

  2. Author
    Maria 7 years ago

    Brigitte – I’d forgotten about another good family-oriented “horse” movie (it just happened to be on last night) … “Hidalgo” with Viggo Mortensen

  3. Author
    Maria 7 years ago

    Brigitte – And thanks for the feedback! Enjoy the movie!

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