Dream Horse (2020)
Directed by: Euros Lyn | 113 minutes | biography, comedy | Actors: Toni Collette, Owen Teale, Alan David, Lynda Baron, Damian Lewis, Karl Johnson, Steffan Rhodri, Rhys ap William, Carwyn Glym, Siân Phillips, Benji Wild, Anthony O’Donnell, Darren Evans, Di Botcher, Rekha John- Cheriyan, Brian Doherty, Asheq Akhtar, Max Hutchinson, Aneirin Hughes, Nicholas Farrell
‘Seabiscuit’, ‘Hidalgo’, ‘Secretariat’. Race horses are popular with film makers. It also has something heroic, of course, to compete on the back of such a noble animal in a prestigious derby. Many horse movies follow a similar pattern, which usually makes the genre rather predictable. You already know how the drama will unfold from the start and the heroic ending can also be predicted. The trick then is to make a film that, despite all those clichés and open doors, is charming and compelling enough to captivate the audience. The Welshman Euros Lyn, mainly known as director of series such as “Broadchurch”, “Happy Valley” and “Black Mirror”, shows with ‘Dream Horse’ (2020) that he understands this art. Because despite the generic title and the predictable route this horse drama takes, this is one of the better movies of its kind. Thanks to the heartwarming (true) story and a cast to enjoy!
Dream Alliance, the racehorse that ‘Dream Horse’ is about, was previously the subject of the documentary ‘Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story about Dream Alliance’ (2015), which won an audience award at the prestigious Sundance Festival. That the story about a humble barmaid from Wales who decides to take care of a racehorse and asks her fellow villagers to help her with financing and training appeals to the imagination of many, was already clear then. International film critics bet that this extraordinary story would one day be made into a feature film and even speculated about who would play the lead roles.
It’s to be hoped they didn’t bet money on their picks (Imelda Staunton and Jim Broadbent), as it ended up being Toni Collette and Owen Teale who take on the role of Jan Vokes and her husband Brian ‘Daisy’. Jan is an animal lover through and through, who invariably starts her days feeding her gigantic wolfhound and the geese that scurry around in her kitchen. In the past she bred dogs (Whippets) and carrier pigeons, but now she spends her hours behind the checkout of the local supermarket. She proves to be a caring type when she returns home after visiting her elderly parents to feed her husband Daisy (Owen Teale), a charming grump who is confined to his home due to severe arthritis. . Then she rushes to the pub to pour beers for the villagers. This evening, tax adviser Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) hangs out at the bar, talking about his passion: horse racing, especially gambling. A love that cost him quite a bit of money – and almost his house.
The conversation with Howard gives Jan the idea to breed a racehorse himself. She purchases the mare Rewbell and persuades Daisy, Howard and half the village to put in money to have Rewbell impregnate with a thoroughbred stallion. The plan succeeds and the beautiful chestnut brown foal that is born is named Dream Alliance in consultation with Jan’s lenders. The animal must be prepared for a career as a racehorse and that is never smooth sailing, especially in these kinds of films. Top trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell) has no qualms about hiring this bunch of amateurs to turn Dream Alliance into a racer, and the animal won’t just be lectured. Personal problems also crop up, including between Howard and his wife Angela (Joanna Page), who is tired of her husband’s endless gambling.
Anyone who has seen the documentary about Dream Alliance knows what happens next. But that also applies to anyone who has not seen that film. That predictability can work against a film, but miraculously ‘Dream Horse’ manages to avoid that hurdle thanks to Lyn’s thorough direction, a colorful arsenal of side characters and a deft editing that comes into its own, especially in the racing scenes. Lyn also manages to find a fine balance between the tension on the racetrack and the drama that takes place outside it. But it is above all the wonderful cast that makes ‘Dream Horse’ rise above itself. Toni Collette; what can that woman actually not play convincingly? Even the sweetest texts roll off her tongue with relish. She gets great feedback from Lewis, Teale and many other very capable British (character) actors, which makes ‘Dream Horse’ a little party to watch. A great example of how good acting can effortlessly elevate an otherwise mediocre story!