‘The Cup’ at 5: Brendan Gleeson’s Australian horse racing movie revisited

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2016 marks five years since the release of The Cup.

Released in cinemas in 2011, the$15 million Australian biographical film told the story of champion Aussie jockey Damien Oliver’s victory in the 2002 Melbourne Cup race with the American-bred gelding Media Puzzle, prepared by the Irish trainer Dermot Weld.

Directed by Sydney-born Simon Wincer (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles), the movie’s screenplay with co-written by Wincer with American author Eric O’Keefe.

O’Keefe had previously written about the subject in his 2009 non-fiction book, also titled The Cup, itself based on a 2003 article that O’Keefe wrote for Nicklaus Magazine called ‘The Race That Stopped a Nation.’

What was it about?

Just one week prior to the 2002 Melbourne Cup, Jason Oliver – Damien’s older brother – was fatally injured while riding an unraced horse in a training accident at Perth’s Ascot Racecourse. Jason was taken to Royal Perth Hospital, but never regained consciousness. He died when he was taken off life support.

Nearly three decades earlier, back in in 1975, jockey Ray Oliver – Damien and Jason’s dad – was involved in a five-horse fall while competing in the Boulder Cup at Kalgoorlie. Tragically he too was knocked unconscious and also taken to at Royal Perth Hospital, flown from Kalgoorlie to Perth. Like his son 27 years later, Ray never regained consciousness and died, leaving behind his widow, Pat, to care for the couple’s two young sons, 5-year-old Jason and 3-year-old Damien.

In 2002, following his brother’s death, Damien returned to Melbourne and competed in the Melbourne Cup. His brave decision captured the attention of his countrymen across Australia, as well as racing fans all over the world.

Damien Oliver dedicated his victory in the 2002 Melbourne Cup to his Jason and the winning ride was chosen by Sport Australia Hall of Fame as one of the all-time most memorable moments in the sporting history of Australia.

Who was in it?

Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, 28 Days Later, Harry Potter) led the cast as racehorse trainer Dermot Weld who holds the record for the most winners trained in Ireland (2,578, if you were wondering).

Australian comedian Stephen Curry (The Time Of Our Lives) starred as Damien Oliver, alongside former Neighbours heartthrob and The Bill actor Daniel MacPherson as Jason Oliver and Home & Away star Jodi Gordon as Trish Oliver.

Bill Hunter, who appeared in over 60 films during his fifty year career, played Bart Cummings, one of the most successful Australian racehorse trainers ever. Sadly The Cup was Bill Hunter’s last film. The actor died of liver cancer aged 71, shortly before the movie was released.

What did the critics say?

ABC reported that The Cup had “the sweeping tracking shots and expensive locations you expect from a big-screen production, although they did have one criticism: “With all the glamour, speed and power on screen, it is crying out for a steamy love scene.”

The Sunday Morning Herald said: “It’s a shamelessly old-fashioned picture but if you like horses and fancy cantering off into the land of wish-fulfilment for a couple of hours, why not?”

Common Sense Media praised the movie’s “stirring music, beautiful horses, and fine performances,” adding that “it will delight horse lovers and other sports fans who enjoy a rousing competition laced with tragedy, even though the outcome will not come as much of a surprise.”

If you’re looking for some horse racing action that’s a bit closer to home, fans can look forward to the return of the Cheltenham Festival next year.

Have you seen The Cup? Let us know below…