USA/UK 1998

Reviewed by Philip Kemp


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

County Kildare, Ireland, 8 February 1983. The famous racehorse Shergar is stolen by an IRA faction led by Gavin O'Rourke and hidden on the farm of a Republican sympathiser, Garritty. While the kidnappers issue a $5m ransom demand, Garritty entrusts Shergar to his stable lad, Kevin Doherty. Kevin bonds closely with the horse. The authorities persuade Shergar's owner not to pay the ransom, and O'Rourke orders the horse to be killed. Learning this, Kevin takes off on Shergar. The terrorists pursue him, taking Garritty with them.

Kevin disguises the horse with black dye. Evading his pursuers, he falls in with Joe Maguire, a horse trainer, and his granddaughter Kate. They invite him to accompany them to Cork; he keeps Shergar's identity secret. When O'Rourke, en route to Derry, is shot dead by the SAS, his lieutenant Concannon continues the pursuit.

At Milltown Races, Kevin rides Joe's mare Baytown Lady to victory. Spotted by the kidnappers, he escapes on Shergar, and Kate sees off Concannon with a pitchfork. Rain washes off Shergar's dye. The pursuers close in, trapping Kevin and Shergar on a clifftop. Kevin rides Shergar into the sea. After the terrorists have left, Kate finds Kevin floating in the sea and revives him. Shergar appears standing high on the cliff. Later his foal is born to Baytown Lady.


The disappearance in 1983 of Shergar, widely considered the greatest racehorse of the century, aroused powerful emotions. Kidnapped and almost certainly killed by the Provisional IRA, the horse was subsequently the object of almost as many posthumous sightings as Elvis. Former director of photography Denis C. Lewiston's film, very much a personal labour of love, is an elaborately worked-out version of one of these wish-fulfilment fantasies.

As film subjects, horses and Ireland both carry a strong risk of sentimentality and the two together - as director Mike Newell showed in Into the West - can be fatal. Lewiston's film, which often traverses similar territory to Newell's, is likewise heavy on lyrical long shots of lone riders galloping across Irish hillsides, their banal message of freedom further underlined by John Scott's lush score swelling on the soundtrack. The film's whimsy content is further upped by the arrival of Ian Holm's pixie-ish, philosophical old tinker, rambling through the woods declaiming Yeats. That he turns out to be a learned dropout from Trinity College Dublin and lives in a horse-drawn caravan will scarcely come as a surprise.

There's something almost endearing, though, about the film's eager embrace of every available narrative cliché. Stable lad Kevin's abduction of the horse, as the execution squad approaches, takes place in a rampaging thunderstorm; later on, he and the winsome Kate lie chastely side by side outdoors at night, gazing up at the stars. (His constellation, she tells him, is Pegasus.) Having inherited jockey skills from his absentee father, Kevin triumphantly wins his first-ever horse race. All else pales, though, beside the climax, which dares to undercut a Thelma & Louise-style death leap over the cliff with the most mawkishly implausible of happy endings. Kevin's drowned body, recovered from the sea, spontaneously regains life, while from the cliff top above Shergar (or his spirit?) gazes down benevolently on the birth of his foal, looking for all the world like Bambi's dad.

Holm apart, none of the film's name stars are given much to do. Mickey Rourke as the IRA chief O'Rourke growls menacingly into a telephone a few times before being gunned down. David Warner, unwontedly subdued, seems to be shaping into a promisingly ambivalent character as Republican sympathiser Garritty, but after the first half-hour he's reduced to being dragged in and out of cars looking increasingly disgruntled. Most of the dramatic weight falls on Tom Walsh, appealing but bland as Kevin. Shergar's lack of pretension and evident devotion to its subject make it hard to dislike, but myth-making needs a wilder imagination, and a far greater readiness to confront the dark side, than anything on offer here.


Denis C. Lewiston
Brian Agnew
Jeff Geoffray
Walter Josten
Denis C. Lewiston
Director of Photography
David Lewis
Alan Strachan
Production Designer
Brian Ackland-Snow
Music/Music Conductor
John Scott
©Shergar Financing Inc.
Production Companies
Blue Rider Pictures presents a Morlaw Films production in association with The Isle of Man Film Commission
Executive Producer
Brian Agnew
Line Producer
Ray Freeborn
Associate Producers
Craig Nicholls
James Agnew
Production Supervisor
LA Production Staff:
Jo Ann May-Pavey
Production Co-ordinator
Joyce Turner
Location Manager
Clive Miles
Post-production Supervisor
UK Post-production:
Pat Harding
Additional Post-production Services
Dennis Carrigan
Shepperton Studios
Creative Consultant
LA Production Staff:
Daniel Duncan
Assistant Directors
John Watson
Kate Hazell
Matthew Penry-Davey
2nd Unit:
Emma Cullen
Script Supervisor
Liz West
John Hubbard
Ros Hubbard
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Michael Frift
2nd Unit Steadicam Operators
Simon Bray
Dogan Halil
Digital Effects
Peerless Camera Co Ltd
Special Effects
David Harris
Art Director
Roger Bowles
Ted Ambrose
Costume Designer
Louise Stjernsward
Costume Supervisor
Suzy Freeman
Chief Make-up Artist
Jenny Sharpe
Animal Make-up Artist
Wendy Rawson
Hair Designer
Linda Catlin
Peerless Camera Co Ltd
Sound Recordists
Brian Simmons
2nd Unit:
Malcolm Davies
Re-recording Mixer
Alan Snelling
Supervising Sound Editor
UK Post-production:
Alan Paley
Dialogue Editor
UK Post-production:
Joe Gallagher
Sound Engineer
King William's College:
Charles Guard
Additional Dialogue
Rudyard Burley
Corinne Martin
Pierce Quigley
Matthew Dunster
Kedysha Sassi
Juliet Howland
Rory Murray
Daniel Hart
Dominic McHale
Bapty & Co.
Animal Co-ordinator
Sally Jagger
Ian Holm
Joseph Maguire
David Warner
Mickey Rourke
Gavin O'Rourke
Andrew Connolly
Laura Murphy
Tom Walsh
Kevin Doherty
Alan Barker
Elliott Smyth
Billy Boyle
Stephan Brennan
Mr Faloon
Gary Cady
S.A.S. Captain Kirkpatrick
Denny Cain
shop owner
Virginia Cole
Mrs Garritty
Timothy Davies
Raymond Rendow
Peter Dix
Andrew Dixon
Chief Inspector Penfold
Phelim Drew
Dave Duffy
Sergeant Mullins
Julian Fellowes
Gail Fitzpatrick
female reporter
Maria Hayden
Mrs Faloon
George Jackos
Miriam Kane
Jimmy Keogh
Father Doyle
Thomas Lappin
P.C. O'Brien
Gary Lydon
Detective Sergeant Malen
Fintan McKeown
Detective Inspector Deely
Walter McMonagle
Conor Mullen
Eamon Rohan
Paul Ronan
Graham Simmonds
James Simmonds
Sean Sloan
Gary Stretch
S.A.S. soldier
Christopher Whitehouse
Peter O'Sullevan
Chapel Choir of King William's College
orphanage choir
Robin Boyle
Steve Haworth
Colin Jerry
Clive Kneale
musicians at races
Nu Image Distribution
8,583 feet
95 minutes 22 seconds
Dolby Digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011