International Velvet is an oddity. The picture is an elaborate sequel to National Velvet (1944), the movie that transformed 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor into a movie star—she played Velvet Brown, a precocious equestrian who wins a major contest, becoming a heroine in her native England, only to be disqualified due to her age. Produced 34 years later, without Taylor reprising her role, International Velvet dramatizes a new adventure in Velvet’s life. Now settled into quiet, rural domesticity with her husband, successful author John Seaton (Christopher Plummer), Velvet (Nanette Newman) becomes the guardian of her recently orphaned niece, Sarah Brown (Tatum O’Neal). After some initial trouble adjusting to life in England, Sarah follows in her aunt’s footsteps by becoming a world-class rider, entering the Olympics atop the son of the horse Velvet rode in the first picture.
Sequels arriving decades after their predecessors rarely work, and the absence of Taylor in the Velvet role makes International Velvet feel particularly unnecessary. Therefore, since the movie is primarily a vehicle for O’Neal—who, by the late ’70s, was a top child star with an Oscar to her credit—wouldn’t it have made more sense to simply remake the original film instead of awkwardly contriving a follow-up? Alas, one can only guess at the machinations of producer/director/co-writer Bryan Forbes, whose eclectic career includes several intelligent but unremarkable movies. And, unfortunately for Forbes, the biggest draw of International Velvet—O’Neal’s performance—is a letdown. Caught at an awkward age, O’Neal is an attractive teenager but neither a fascinating child nor a fully formed adult, and her acting is so mannered that she’s outclassed by her costars.
In the early scenes, depicting Sarah’s integration into her aunt’s country estate, Plummer’s suave demeanor and wry line deliveries dominate. Later, when Sarah joins the British Olympic team, Anthony Hopkins takes over the movie with his funny turn as a witheringly sarcastic coach. (As for Newman, the director’s real-life spouse, she’s elegant but forgettable.) Forbes mounts an impressive production, with extensive location photography, glamorous lighting, and vivid sports sequences. Additionally, some of his dialogue is quite tasty, particularly the bitchy monologues issued by Hopkins. However, the lack of real suspense in the movie, save for a harrowing plane trip during which a horse’s life is endangered, makes International Velvet feel as deep as a postcard.
International Velvet: FUNKY