Hopes and horses
Upbeat and charming Dream Horse oversells fleeting accomplishments
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Critics are lining up at the gate to call Dream Horse a “crowd-pleasing adaptation” of Dark Horse, a 2015 award-winning documentary. And so it may be. Dream Horse is based on the true story of an underdog racehorse named Dream Alliance that outperforms expectations on the track. The film’s also about Dream Alliance’s inexperienced owners, working-class residents of a tiny Welsh town who try their hand at the sport of kings.
While many viewers will cheer along with the winner’s-circle celebrations, some may find it sad that the owners’ sense of worth seems to ride on the back of their prized stallion.
Hear it straight from the horse owner’s mouth: “Who were we?” Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) asks the other members of the syndicate, townsfolk who have pooled their money to pay for Dream Alliance’s training. “Dream came along and reminded us all what life is like when you have hope.”
Hope is evidently hard to come by in a steel-mill village nestled among the valleys of south Wales, where Jan and her husband, nicknamed Daisy (Owen Teale), live. Both have raised animals before. Now, as Daisy sits glued to the telly, Jan works at a grocery store, keeps the bar at a tavern, and checks in on her elderly parents. She also cares for Dream Alliance while he’s a foal.
“I need something to look forward to when I get up in the morning,” Jan says.
Jan convinces several acquaintances to contribute a “tenner” each week to pay for Dream Alliance’s stabling with a renowned trainer. The syndicate includes the town drunk (the film has several drinking scenes) and Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), an accountant. Howard once managed other syndicates but lost a fortune and nearly his marriage. He’s looking for redemption.
Dream Alliance’s surprising showings at local races strengthen the syndicate’s sense of community and purpose. The owners earn prize money too, but not much after it’s divvied up. A proper perspective of these good things seems in short supply.
“All my life I’ve never been me,” Jan whispers to her horse. She laments only ever having been someone else’s daughter, wife, or mother. “But watching you race, I’m Jan.” The owners apparently don’t appreciate that a hired trainer does all the work while they cheer from the grandstand.
The production side of the film features strong acting and charming townscapes, along with a well-designed composition of turf- and heart-pounding racing sequences filmed from drones and on-horse cameras. Quirky characters bring laugh-out-loud moments—it’s too bad the film (like Dark Horse) isn’t more about them. For its language and innuendos, Dream Horse deserves something stronger than its PG rating. And viewers deserve a reminder: Thieves steal, rust destroys, and horses falter. Earthly treasures don’t last.
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