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Christy Catherine Marshall

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November 7, 2010



I had a hunch about Secretariat.

When I saw the previews for it, I thought the plot would be similar to SeaBiscuit, a feel-good movie about a horse overcoming odds to win races. But I still wanted to make an effort to see it because of the “housewife” story, a mother in mid-life who finds her true calling. This was the real incentive for me to add it to my must-see list.

I felt like a racehorse overcoming all odds just to GET to the movie theater. Our little entourage required days of phone calls and emails, coordinating schedules and pick-ups and meeting times — and IT WAS A COLD AND RAINY NIGHT when we finally made it to our finish line at the ticket counter.

Popcorn in hand, I listened to my daughter’s eleven-year-old friend tell me about her latest horse show experience. “I got fourth place last week riding my horse, Peter Pan,” she said. We were definitely the perfect audience for this Disney horse feature.

The movie opened with such a familiar scene: Diane Lane, playing Penny Chenery Tweedy, is serving her family supper, straight from the frying pan. A Denver housewife, she’s put her career aspirations on hold to raise her four children. Then the inciting incident: the phone rings, a startled Penny drops the bowl she’s stirring, and we learn that her mother has suddenly died.

Penny journeys with her family back home to the Virginia horse farm where she grew up. After the funeral, she decides to stay a couple of weeks to put her mother’s affairs in order and help her ailing father. He’s being taken advantage of by greedy farm managers, and she immediately fires a dishonest breeder. The farm has been losing money for years, and Penny determines to do all she can to save it.

Unfortunately, it’s a man’s world she’s stepping into, but that doesn’t stop her. After winning Secretariat in a coin toss, she approaches French-Canadian Lucien Laurin (played by the hilarious John Malkovich), to train him. He refuses at first since he’s supposedly retired, but then throws his golf clubs away and decides to join her. Definitely a wise decision.

Halfway through the film, I turned to my seven-year-old son and said, “Isn’t this amazing? It’s a true story!” His eyes got big and he said, “You mean this really happened?” And then he passed the word down our row. “This really happened!”

I remember being in sixth or seventh grade writing a report on Secretariat in my school’s “media center,” copying facts out of the encylopedia. Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, running two world records that still stand today, 37 years later. He’s known as “the greatest racehorse who ever lived.” When he died in 1989, it was discovered that his heart actually weighed twice what was normal for horses.

Doesn’t Diane Lane remind you of Cinderella in this scene? (And she’s 45 years old!)


For all of us who were around in the early 1970s, the fashion and set designs bring back nostalgic memories of sun clocks and earth tones. I kept wanting to loosen up Diane Lane’s helmet hair, and it seemed like she got prettier and more relaxed as the story progressed.

At the final racing scene, our whole theater erupted in applause — this is what makes sharing a movie fun. As we were leaving, my friend who had brought her two kids said, “That was the BEST movie I’ve seen all year.” And I agreed.

Secretariat is a horse story that needed to be told on the silver screen, and this movie’s going to become a classic, one I’ll want to own, especially if the DVD includes an interview with the real Penny Chenery Tweedy, who is still alive at age 88.

Stay for the end of the credits. There is a surprising cameo you won’t want to miss!

By: Heather Ivester in: Movies | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)



2 Responses to Secretariat One of the Best Family Films of the Year

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