Michelle Payne (Teresa Palmer) is the youngest of ten children, looked after by horse mad father Paddy Payne (Sam Neill), recently widowed following the death of his beloved wife.

The family live in rural Australia and travel around in an adapted ambulance, living the good life indulging their passion for all things equine, despite their recent loss.

Horse racing is in their blood with even young Michelle, played initially by Summer North, able to recount runners and riders from each Melbourne cup race randomly selected by her father.

As the kids grow up among the madness of family life, Paddy retains his gruff Australian nature, loving all the kids but not always able to show his feelings, just like your stereotypical rural Aussie bloke.

Michelle likes to ride and race and becomes increasingly frustrated as her older siblings, especially her brother, get the rides even when her own talent matches or exceeds their abilities.

Michelle is also very close to her Downs Syndrome brother Stevie Payne (playing himself to great effect) and the pair support each other through various trials and tribulations.

Palmer is fine and does a fair job in portraying the various ups and downs of Payne’s career. Encountering indifference, sexism, major injury and having to work twice as hard for half the results.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of horse racing will know the Melbourne Cup is a big deal, and until 1995 had never been won by a female jockey. No spoilers here but even with the end result a Google search away, the riding scenes are exciting and the final race remains an emotional nail biter.

Neill is required to anchor the film and largely does so with his usual consummate ease. There are a few scenes which would have benefited from letting the camera run, with emotional scenes cut short, just when they start to get interesting. After all, there is no point casting a great actor and not using their skills to the fullest.

The film is somewhat linear and by necessity largely formulaic, regular movie goers will know what will happen and when but the story certainly ticks the inspirational box.

There is a touch of “Disneyfication” of the film, a slightly harder edge might have increased the potential audience for the movie. However, this is targeted as a comfortable family orientated film and largely meets that expectation.


In these times, it’s refreshing to find a “good” real life tale to tell and running at around 96 minutes, represents an easy watch for the entire family.