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International Velvet

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Pan, London, 1978
(price: 60p; 160 pages)

dedication: This novel and the screenplay from which it derives would not have been possible without the inspiration of Enid Bagnold's classic story National Velvet. The author would like to acknowledge his debt and, in homage, dedicate this sequel to Miss Bagnold, with love and admiration.

The blurb on the back:

International Velvet is the splendid sequel to National Velvet - the classic story that became the memorable film.
Sarah is the niece of Velvet Brown, the heroine of
National Velvet. Orphaned by a road crash, Sarah comes unhappily to England to live with her aunt.
Only when she discovers her talent for riding does her sadness fade... and Sarah finds her horse and her ambition - to ride for Britain and win Olympic gold...

opening lines:
The woman with the unexpected name walked along the edge of the sea at ebb tide under a sky the texture of grease-proof paper, her red trenchcoat the only stab of colour for miles.

Just in case you found Elizabeth Taylor's 1944 film National Velvet not quite sickly enough, Bryan Forbes unleashed this sequel upon us in 1978. It was much sneered at back when it was released and - if anybody could be bothered to remember it - no doubt it would be now as well, but I have to say it's got some things going for it:

Firstly, the child star is Tatum O'Neal rather than Elizabeth Taylor, and for my money, that's a marginal trade upwards. Secondly, the role played by Taylor as a child is here rendered by Nanette Newman (continuing a long-running association with Forbes that included marriage and had most recently produced The Stepford Wives). Thirdly, the cast list doesn't include Mickey Rooney, which has got to be a plus point for any movie. And finally, the plot is more credible.

Just in case you forgot the original, it involved a 12-year-old girl entering the Grand National, which is both absurd and pointless. (Coincidentally or otherwise, the year before the sequel, Charlotte Brew became the first woman to ride in the race, but she was at least of adult age.) In International Velvet the challenge for our young heroine is to enter the Olympics, which again is stretching credulity - those equestrian events tend to attract mean, no-nonsense competitors like Princess Anne - but at least ties in with the 1970s trend of getting pre-pubescent girls to liven up the Games.

So the film's not as bad as it's made out to be and quite possibly you'd enjoy it if you were a 10-year-old girl. But then you'd hardly be visiting this site, would you?

The book, of course, is completely hopeless, despite being written by Forbes himself and despite the occasional moment:

'I've given myself a choice,' Mike said. 'If Johnson doesn't pick me, I'll either go to Japan and get massaged to death, or else I'll become a Liberal MP. Two foolproof methods of suicide.' (p100)

I wouldn't bother if I were you - read Black Beauty instead.