★★★★ - STUFF
- Toni Collette's heartwarming tale of a pony that raised a village -
Jan Vokes (Toni Collette ) has always needed a purpose to her life.
First, it was breeding whippets, followed by racing pigeons. Then along came her two children.
But with that pair now having flown the coop, Jan is just left with just her ageing parents and increasingly depressive husband Brian (Owen Teale). Part-time jobs at The Co-op and down the pub aren’t fulfilling enough and the news that the goat has ringworm and the duck’s got bumblefoot might just be enough to send her over the edge.
That is, until she encounters Cardiff accountant Howard Davies (Damian Lewis). While his racehorse-owning syndicate eventually almost left him penniless, he still dines out on the stories it generated, recounting them with passion to his fellow drinkers.
Inspired, Jan sets to researching bloodlines and brood mares. Cashing in her savings, she purchases Rewbell, housing her in a purpose-built shed on their allotment.
Assistance is required though for the next stage of her project. In order to pay for the stud fees to potentially produce a foal, she’ll need contributions from her fellow villagers. While Howard is onboard, provided his wife doesn’t find out about it, the initial reaction from other is lukewarm.
Eventually though, even despite the odds of any offspring winning a race being less than 1 per cent, enough decide they can afford the weekly amount, if only for the “hwyl” it could bring them. After all, Cefn Fforest has been through some tough times, with people losing their jobs, their family and, in some cases, their pride, this might just give them some hope to cling to.
While watching Euros Lyn’s charming underdog tale unfold, it’s hard not to be reminded of those classic British dramedies of the ‘90s and noughties like The Full Monty, Brassed Off and Billy Elliot. But while the shadow of Thatcherism still hangs over the South Wales valleys setting (despite this taking place long after her departure from 10 Downing St), it’s never overtly alluded to, placing this more in the realm of the likes of Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots, where the dramas are more internal.
Lyn, a veteran of British TV dramas like Broadchurch, Torchwood and Doctor Who, keeps the trials and tribulations, triumphs and disasters moving along at a fair gallop (the racing scenes brilliantly brought to life via a variety of camera angles and tension-inducing close-ups on the steeplechase jumps), while also taking the time to allow the characters to breathe. This, in particular, allows the talented Collette and Lewis and their impressive Welsh accents the chance to shine.
Screenwriter Neil McKay’s time on rural Yorkshire period drama Heartbeat no doubt stood him in good stead for Dream Horse and his eclectic, eccentric group of supporting characters deliver many of the story’s main laughs.
Despite the usual, crowdpleasing showing-up-the toffs and subverting expectations, it’s the heart that really pulls you in and has you willing the chestnut gelding to cross the finish line first.
If you want the real story (which actually has far more twists and turns), the 2015 documentary Dark Horse is available on DocPlay, although, unlike here, that won’t do for Tom Jones what Full Monty did for Hot Chocolate.
In the end, this is an uplifting, heartwarming retelling of a disparate group who bought a horse and ended up with a galloper who raised a village.
- James Croot, STUFF
Dream Horse is now playing at Light House Cinema!