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25 Apr 2019 19:00

Richard Askwith on Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World's Most Dangerous Horse Race

Come and join us for an evening with Richard Askwith, author of an evocative biography of Emil Zátopek, speaking about his new book Unbreakable and Lata Brandisová, the first and only woman to win the Grand Pardubice, the world’s most dangerous steeplechase, defying the Nazis in the process and winning the heart of the nation. Richard will be in conversation with Julian Wilde about the tale of courage and heartbreak, in an age of fear and prejudice: of sexism, class hatred, and nationalism.

Czechoslovakia, October 1937. Europe’s youngest democracy is on its knees. Millions are mourning the death of the nation’s founding father, the saintly Tomáš Masaryk. Across the border, the Third Reich is menacing – and plotting to invade. In the Czechoslovak heartlands, vast crowds have gathered to watch the threatened nation’s most prestigious sporting contest: the Grand Pardubice steeplechase. Notoriously dangerous, the race is considered the ultimate test of manhood and fighting spirit. The Nazis have sent their paramilitary elite: SS officers schooled to be Hitler’s most ruthless enforcers. But there is one other contestant: a silver-haired countess riding a little golden mare... The story of Lata Brandisová (1895 – 1981) is one of the strangest and most inspiring in all sport. Born into privilege, she spent much of her life in poverty. Modest and shy, she refused to accept the constraints society placed on her because of her gender. Instead, with quiet courage, she repeatedly achieved what others said was impossible. The scandal of her first attempt to ride in Pardubice reverberated across Europe. Ten years later, she became her nation’s figurehead in its darkest hour.

Unbreakable is a tale of courage, heartbreak and defiance, in an age of prejudice and fear. In the background are forces – sexism, class hatred, nationalism – whose shadows darken today’s world too. In the foreground are eccentric aristocrats, socialite spies, daredevil jockeys – and a race so brutal that some consider merely taking part in it a sign of insanity. At its heart is a unique hero, and a unique love affair between a woman and a horse. But equally, Brandisová's story maps closely the history of the Czech nation - she lives through the break-up of Austria-Hungary empire, the foundation of Czechoslovakia and The First Republic and also the accession of Communism.

Cover Image: Lata Brandisová with Norma after winning in the Grand Pardubice steeplechase, October 1937 
credit: Pospíšil Archive

Richard Askwith, Unbreakable, Yellow Jersey Press (Penguin Random House UK), 2019


Tickets: £5 + booking fee

The cinema is accessible through the reception of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in London, 26 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QY. Please note the entrance is on Bayswater Road.

Please note that the venue is not accesible to wheelchair users!


"an extraordinary story of an exceptionally courageous woman who needs to be remembered and deserves to be celebrated" - The Daily Telegraph

‘Askwith’s compelling book, as much about 20th-century history and women’s equality as it is about racing, is a fitting tribute to a truly remarkable and courageous woman.’
  - The Mail on Sunday


Richard Askwith
Richard Askwith has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He has written five previous books, including an evocative biography of Emil Zátopek, Today We Die A Little, which was shortlisted in the Cross Sports Book Awards. This marked his first foray into the world of Czechoslovak sport. His first book, Feet in the Clouds, won Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards and the Bill Rollinson Prize for Landscape and Tradition. It was shortlisted for the William Hill and Boardman-Tasker prizes and was named by Runner’s World as one of the three best running books of all time. His 2014 book, Running Free, was short-listed for the Thwaites-Wainwright Prize.

Julian Wilde, Chair

Julian Wilde is a regular visitor to Prague, the summit of Snezka and to the city of Hradec Kralove where he teaches English at the Gymnazium B. Nemcove, a link established 25 years ago. A keen walker and cyclist he has followed the green ways route from Prague to Vienna. He writes for the British Czech and Slovak Association Review and is an educational columnist and theatre reviewer for the local papers in Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire where he lives.  


Lata Brandisová: the woman who won europe’s toughest steeplechase
David Vaughan, Radio Praha, 13 October 2018



Lata Brandisová on Norma during her winning ride in the Grand Pardubice steeplechase, October 1937
credit: Česká televize


Lata Brandisová on Norma at Pardubice, October 1937, following her victory in the Grand Pardubice steeplechase / credit: Pospíšil Archive





Czech Embassy Cinema, 26 Kensington Palace Gardens, London, W84QY


25 Apr 2019 19:00


Czech Centre

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