Originally I was planning on reviewing this movie like I’ve reviewed horse movies in the past – basically, pointing out all the absurd plot points and inaccurate horse information. But, this is actually a good movie, and I just can’t.
I first saw this movie as a kid, and I loved it then. I loved the story line, the horses, the characters, and the humor sprinkled in. I watched it again for this post, and it’s still a great movie. I can’t even really fault the horse elements, although it’s pretty unlikely that a horse that couldn’t be managed by adults is suddenly tame for a teenage girl, with no scenes explaining how. But luckily you hardly notice how completely implausible this is, plus teenage girls are like mini horse whisperers, they have a lot of drive to figure out horses. So maybe it isn’t totally implausible.
The story takes place in the 1920’s, an age when people still used horses for work purposes. Velvet Brown, our main characeter, is obsessed with horses. All Velvet wants is a horse of her own to love and ride. The Brown’s have a horse already, but she pulls their butcher delivery cart and is not suitable for ambitious young Velvet.
One of her neighbors acquires a horse, but the horse is such a rogue that he can’t be handled, and keeps breaking out of his field (wow, this sounds familiar). He jumps over a stone wall in front of Velvet and her new horse trainer friend, Mi Taylor, and they are amazed at his jumping ability. (This was also a time when people befriended homeless men they found on the side of the road.)
While they are marveling at his skill, “The Pie” runs rampant in the village, destroying all sorts of things like begonias and planters. The owner is overcome with frustration at this horse, so he decides to hold a raffle to get rid of him.
Velvet Brown wins the horse, and she’s thrilled with her new mount. As mentioned earlier, suddenly the horse is completely fine, able to be ridden everywhere and kept contained, so he just needed a teenage girl to tame him. Teenage girls truly are one with the horse.
Based on The Pie’s amazing jump before, Velvet decides she wants to train him to go to The Grand National, “The Greatest Horse Race in the World.” She convinces Mi to train her and The Pie.
They train for what seems to be a year, and despite not taking him to a single horse race prior, eventually take The Pie to The Grand National. People were a lot more confident in their horses back then. The jockey they choose is a bit arrogant and Velvet knows that the Pie is going to be offended by this, so she fires him. What will they do now?! After all their hard work, now they have no jockey! Naturally Velvet decides she will ride Pie herself, despite her obvious handicap of being a girl. Apparently it’s against the rules, only men are strong enough to handle a horse, I guess.
But of course, she wins the race, because she has that bond with The Pie. But she does pass out upon winning, which is such a girl thing to do, and probably why they didn’t want girls in the race in the first place! (That was sarcasm to be clear. Screenwriters back then seem to think females fainted at the rate of goats, they liked to make it a plot point.)
They discover she’s a girl, so she’s disqualified, probably as they hang up some more “No Girls Allowed!” signs around the racetrack. But despite not “winning”, she actually still did still win, so everyone is super happy with her. Her family is proud, the press loves this story, and Velvet gets her happily ever after. Mi feels really awkward though and tries to leave, but Velvet chases him down, probably to drag him back to live with her… forever. (that’s when this movie starts the transition to the horror genre.) But that’s the end so we’ll never know what elaborate trap Velvet is setting up for Mi,
It actually is a great movie, and basically a must see for horse lovers. It is a sweet story and while it’s not “based on true event,” it is based on A true event. The Grand National is a real horse race that is still being run today!
Like many great stories, it’s based on a book! I have started to read it, and honestly, it’s a little bit of a tough read. It was written in 1935, took place in the 1920’s, and the language and style reflect that. The character’s speech is often written in British dialect, and since I am neither British nor from 1920, I have trouble understand what they are saying.
Basically, this is not a relaxing, flowing read. It’s jarring to read, and then try to figure out what I just read.
And this is a book intended for children. Boy, do I feel stupid.
I’ll keep on… from the synopsis I read, it sounds like there are some slight differences that would be interesting to read, like Velvet takes Pie to a gymkhana, and there’s something about her getting multiple horses? I must find out.
Otherwise, from what I’ve read, the movie is pretty faithful to the book.
The Grand National
The story centers around The Grand National, which Mi calls, “The Greatest Horse Race in the World.” It is a real race, and the jumps they describe in the movie are real.
The Grand National was designed as a cross-country steeplechase for its first running in 1839. In the begining, the course started on one edge of the racetrack and then went out into open countryside, jumping flagged jumps, before returning to the track.
Today’s version of the course is the same as the moveie’s. Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn, both jumps referenced in the movie, are present.
The Grand National’s website provides an interesting look at all the jumps on course. Becher’s Brook is explained, so we can make sense of why it was so impressive when The Pie jumped it freely in the movie.
Although the fence looks innocuous from the take-off side, the steep drop on the landing side, together with a left-hand turn on landing, combine to make this the most thrilling and famous fence in the horse racing world. The fence actually measures well over 6 ft on the landing side. A drop of between 5 and 10 in from takeoff lies on the other side. Horses are not expecting the ground the disappear under them on landing. Riders need to sit back and use their body weight to act as ballast to keep the horses stableGrand National
The Grand National’s website is one of the most comprehensive I’ve come across, so definitely check it out for all sorts of fascinating information on the history, the jumps, and the strategies.
The Horse that Played Pie
Of course being a live action movie, the horse that played The Pie was a real horse, with his own story.
The horse was a seven year old thoroughbred gelding named King Charles. The details on him seem a bit murky. I’ve seen quite a few claims that he is the grandson of Man O’War, but I have found no solid proof to back this up. The All Breed Pedigree lists a thoroughbred born in 1925, but Man O’War is not there. I’m not sure that this is the same horse as the age wouldn’t line up.
In fact, I can’t really find solid first hand proof of anything, but this seems to be the general accepted history of the horse.
- He belonged to a society woman and was trained as a show jumper.
- He was kept at the Rivera Country Club in West Los Angeles California prior to the movie.
- Elizabeth Taylor rode him prior to the movie, and suggested him for the movie.
- He was aggressive to his handlers except for Elizabeth Taylor. They had a special bond.
There doesn’t seem to be any question about what happened to him after the movie, though. The movie studio bought him and gave him to Elizabeth Taylor for her 13th birthday, and he lived out his life with her. He had his own happy ending with her.
I have not seen the sequel, but one day I will. Update, I DID watch it. What an amazing, unintentionally hilarious horse movie!
Did you love National Velvet so much you couldn’t wait to see more? Well, this is a confusing mess with plot holes, breathy narration, and drama suitable for a soap opera! And geldings who must reproduce asexually or something, it’s not explained, but The Pie was a gelding!! And sires a foal!? Wow, life sure does find a way!
This is a pretty good movie, about a really neat, really hard race. I’m sure most of us saw it as children, but if you didn’t, you should! It’s obviously a very old movie, but I think it holds up really well. Leaving out that it would probably be very unlikely a horse’s first race would be the Grand National, it actually seems more realistic than most of the horse movies made today.