DREAM HORSE – Review by Diane Carson

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Dream Horse forges a Welsh town into a vibrant, vivacious community.

In her 2015 documentary Dark Horse, writer/director Louise Osmond faced a tough challenge: present the story of an underdog athlete and his working-class owners in a fresh, original way. It helps that this athlete is a Welsh-bred racehorse without an impressive pedigree, and the same holds true for thirty owners hailing from Cefn Forest, a Welsh mining village.

In the documentary, Osmond found ways to energize Jan Vokes’ astonishing decision. With no past experience, on a lark to combat inertia, Jan sets out to breed a racehorse, aiming for top level competitions, including the Welsh Grand National. With little money from her jobs as a grocery clerk and a Club bartender, she invites locals to invest ten pounds a week in their syndicate, each having a vote, even to naming their foal Dream Alliance.

Now director Euros Lyn has crafted this remarkable, real story into the fictionalized narrative Dream Horse, starring Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, and Owen Teale. Though, of course, taking some dramatic liberties, Lyn gets details right, down to husband Brian Vokes, called Daisy, missing some front teeth. Formulaic and totally predictable, Dream Horse is also completely charming and overwhelmingly delightful. Toni Collette as Jan and Damian Lewis as Howard Davies play off each other perfectly: Jan’s inexperience versus Howard’s previous syndicate-gone-bust defeat. We soon understand that this is more about these village residents than this amazing horse.

In addition, the lived-in environment adds poignant resonance. Since timing is everything, this feel-good triumph comes along at the opportune moment. Shooting on location, the beauty of the Welsh countryside, captured by cinematographer Erik Wilson, enhances the appeal, as does electrifying race footage. Similarly, the art direction establishes an authentic home, pub, racetrack, and village. The music by Benjamin Woodgates is, at times, intrusive and unnecessary; but at other times it enlivens and interprets scenes with emotional poignancy, especially when the Welsh National anthem is sung, and the actors and locals join in for Delilah during closing credits.

Late in the story, Daisy says, “We can’t stop ourselves from dreaming of bigger things,” with this fairytale testimony to that truth.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.