In 1944 MGM released National Velvet the film starring Elizabeth Taylor as “National” Velvet Brown, who rides in and wins the Grand National horse race only to be denied her prize when it’s revealed she is in fact a she. Or so I’ve read, I haven’t actually seen the film, and it not being on The List, or an Olympic film, I don’t expect I will be. Nevertheless, National Velvet won a handful of Oscars and universal critical acclaim. A mere 44 years later the Hollywood sequel machine fired up and produced today’s movie, International Velvet. Considering that it resumes the story of the a true cinematic classic and stars a trio of Oscar–caliber actors, there’s every reason to think that this could be an excellent film… but it’s not, as I will explain.
International Velvet picks up the story of the Browns decades after the events of the preceding film, and focuses on Velvet Brown’s niece Sarah Brown, convincingly played by Tatum O’Neal, who has been sent to live with her once-famous aunt following the sudden death of her parents. (As a side-note, International Velvet is not only the first sequel I’ve reviewed here, it’s also the first movie with generational tie to another film I’ve reviewed as Tatum O’Neal is the daughter of Ryan O’Neal, last seen running headlong into a wall in The Games.) Nanette Newman takes over the role of Velvet Brown and while not terrible she’s simply not in the class of the actors she shares the screen with, O’Neal, and Christopher Plummer, who plays Velvet’s live-in boyfriend, John Seaton. (As another side-note, O’Neal was already the youngest person to win an Oscar and Plummer would go on to become the oldest actor ever to win one in 2011.)
This film is really almost feels like two different movies. The first half is pretty good, focusing on a series of episodes dealing with Sarah attempting to accept the death of her parents, and settle into her new life in a new place, with people she hardly knows. Eventually finding an emotional outlet/coping mechanism in a particular horse. Then the film shifts gears to cover Sarah’s entry into the British national Equestrian team. From this point the film really slows down and loses a lot of emotional depth. One notable exception to this is Anthony Hopkins who is utterly magnificent as Captain Johnson, the head of said team. Hopkins has a great character and makes the absolute most of it. Unfortunately, the filmmakers choose to focus far too much on the details of a couple Equestrian events that the team competes at. Also there is the romantic sub-plot, which comes across as neutered and unconvincing. This may stem in-part from the filmmakers casting of 22 year-old Jeffrey Byron as American equestrian team captain Scott Sanders against the 14 year-old O’Neal.
I suppose that if you were a major fan of equestrian competition then this movie might be highly enjoyable. The film’s final third is almost entirely devoted to showing all stages of the competition at the Olympics. But honestly, it’s really just way too much. The film clocks in at just over two hours, I think that they easily could cut thirty minutes of horseplay and had a much better 90 minute film. That might just be worth seeing, but that’s not the way the filmmakers chose to go, and as such this movie is simply not worth seeing.