There is an unassuming quality in Euros Lyn’s “Dream Horse” that serves this fact-based horse tale well.
The equine in question is Dream Alliance, the underdog of all the underdogs in the horse racing world who, one might say, was wanted by Jan Vokes, a woman who was desperate for a living.
That she decided to buy a racehorse after never owning a horse before was a surprise. That he would compete at the highest level and win major scholarships is mind boggling.
Short on melodrama but long on sincerity, the film is anchored by the always reliable Toni Colette as Jan Vokes, a woman who really needs a little hope. She has two dead end jobs and just finds herself doing things. She loves her husband, Brian (Owen Teale), but any passion they may have had is gone a long time ago. She speaks, he answers without thinking, communication does not exist.
However, she does have an idea a day after hearing Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), a regular at the bar where she works, tell stories about when he owned a racehorse. A seed is planted, and it germinates into a notion and soon blossoms into the most improbable of patterns.
Jan does some research and concludes that she would like to buy a broodmare, breed her and hopefully have a quarter horse worth racing. Needless to say, this shot catches Brian’s attention.
It also piques the interest of the citizens of the small English town where Jan lives, so much so that 23 of them decide to form a union, paying £ 10 a week just to be able to say they own a racehorse. . And once the foal is delivered, they can say just that.
However, what starts out as a financial investment quickly becomes an emotional investment as well, as the horse begins to show itself, rank and then win in a series of races that it believes can portend bigger things.
The animal’s career on the track is a compelling story in itself; however, screenwriter Neil McKay provides additional color with scenes centered around the group of eccentrics who have backed this endeavor. Eccentrics are used for comedic relief, each bringing good-natured humor at regular intervals, often at the expense of the gentry who dislikes the inclusion of these commoners enjoying the rarefied air they breathe.
Meanwhile, Collette and Lewis provide the heart and soul of the film, giving us two people who find the courage to dream after suffering serious setbacks. Vets know that in dramas like these less is more, and both downplay key quiet moments, resulting in poignant and emotional performances. They convey Vokes and Davies’ sense of pervasive boredom and cautious optimism in an understandable way that has us in their respective corners from the start.
There are no surprises here, and that’s good. We look to sports films for inspiration because, just like Jan, we need to remember the power of hope and the possibility of miracles.
“Dream Horse” skillfully delivers that, providing us with a touching story about a longshot that succeeded against all odds, an animal that continues to inspire long after its last race.
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