There’s nothing more feel-good than an underdog story and Dream Horse really satisfies if you’re looking for the comforting movie equivalent of a weighted blanket.
That’s not a slight. There is something very restorative about an old-fashioned drama that gets you laughing, smiling and maybe shedding a tear – out of triumph, not sadness.
With the star power of Toni Collette and Damian Lewis, plus a cracker of a true story, Dream Horse is that movie, a deftly crafted film about a woman from a small Welsh town who had the unlikely ambition of owning a champion racehorse and then made it happen.
Every morning Jan Vokes (Collette) wakes up in bed with her husband Brian (Owen Teale) and her Irish wolfhound. She gets up and goes to her job at a local supermarket, then goes to see her elderly parents, makes dinner and then goes to her second job as a bartender.
When Jan overhears accountant Howard Davies (Lewis) regale his friends with tales from his glory days as part of a racing horse syndicate, an idea is born – an idea that offers an escape from the humdrum routine she’s settled into.
With only a few hundred pounds, she buys a mare and makes a proposal to her fellow townspeople: chip in 10 quid a week and you get an equal share in the mare’s foal.
The syndicate was born around a billiards table above which was a light that could only be powered on by 50p at a time. The ragtag group wasn’t made up of toffs who wouldn’t pick up a 10-pound note if it flew up to them on the ground.
These are working and retired folks from a former mining town that’s seen better days, where a weekly 10 quid contribution is a stretch, where days end with degunging the mincer and whose small joys come from Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. They tend to stick out in the owners’ box at the races.
The syndicate’s foal, Dream Alliance, would go on to have a surprising career – otherwise no one would ever have heard of this story, and it wouldn’t have become this movie (and a 2015 documentary that premiered at Sundance).
Dream Horse, directed by Euros Lyn with a screenplay by Neil McKay, doesn’t get into the dubious ethics of horse racing – nor would you expect it to, it’s really not that kind of movie – and the focus is really on the characters of Jan and Howard, and the purpose and sense of community that is brought into their lives.
Collette and Lewis are both sensitive performers who can bring that renewed determination and verve to their roles while the supporting cast including Teale, Sian Phillips, Joanna Page and Karl Johnson all round out this affable group.
When the syndicate was formed, Howard tells them there’s a less than one per cent chance they would ever make any money out of it, and the reason you join is for “hwyl”.
“Hywl” is a Welsh word that is described on-screen as a “feeling of emotional motivation and energy” – and Dream Horse has certainly imbued its likeable story with plenty of “hwyl”.