There are certain types of films that audiences never seem to tire of. One such type involves plucky Brits down on their luck, due to economic forces beyond their control, who find a clever way to change their fortunes for the better without losing their charming eccentricity or their humble souls. Think Brassed Off (1996), The Full Monty (1997), Kinky Boots (2005), and now Dream Horse, in which residents of a small Welsh village pool their resources to train a racehorse that, surprise surprise, goes on to win the Welsh Grand National. That’s not really a spoiler, because not only has this exact story been told in the award-winning documentary Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance, but this kind of a film is all about delivering the expected pleasures to the audience, not upending the formula to take the story somewhere unexpected.
Toni Collette stars as Jan Vokes, a self-effacing woman living in a small Welsh village who works the day shift at a Tesco and tends bar at night. She also finds time to look after her aging parents and her semi-invalid husband (Owen Teale), and to breed animals on the side (the interior of the Vokes home harbors quite a menagerie, which you will find charming if you are an animal lover, and questionable if not).
Despite being busy enough for three people, Jan, who has always put other people’s needs before her own, is primed to take on a new project. She hatches the idea of breeding a racehorse for fun and profit when she hears one of the pub’s customers, Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), talking about horse racing. Her bank account alone won’t fund the project, so she convinces other denizens of the pub, including Howard, to buy shares in the project, and before you know it they’re all going to races and cheering on the horse, Dream Alliance, in which they develop an emotional as well as financial interest.
Of course, there must be a few obstacles along the way, beginning with the death of the mare Rewbell after giving birth to Dream Alliance. Trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell) at first refuses to train Dream Alliance, judging the backers a bunch of country rubes and the horse too unmanageable to be worth his time. Then Dream Alliance takes off, convincing Mr. Big Shot trainer that he’s got what it takes, and the rest is history. Most of the difficulties faced by Dream Alliance and the village syndicate are disposed of as easily, including the obligatory dark night of the soul episode which touches on one of the less pleasant aspects of horse racing. I could have done without the subplot involving the domestic troubles of Howard and his wife (Joanna Page), which seems shoehorned in and altogether unnecessary.
Director Euros Lyn and screenwriter Neil McKay know what kind of a film they are making, and reliably fulfill the requirements of the genre. There aren’t a lot of surprises in Dream Horse, but the village characters are genially eccentric, the Welsh countryside is beautiful, the racing action is convincing, and the montages are efficient. Besides, there’s nothing cuter than watching a colt take its first steps, particularly if said colt is chestnut with a white blaze and four white stockings, and there are few things more impressive than a horse at full gallop, particularly in steeplechase racing, when the horses have to jump over numerous barriers on their way to the finish line. | Sarah Boslaugh
Dream Horse is playing in several St. Louis cinemas, beginning May 21st, and will be available digitally on all regular, paid digital streaming platforms. (Apple, Amazon, DirecTV, etc) beginning June 11.