Directed by: #EurosLyn
Written by: #NeilMcKay
We all need something to believe in.
Dream Horse from director Euros Lyn doesn’t reinvent the formula or achieve anything narratively groundbreaking with the true story of racehorse Dream Alliance and its syndicate of small-town owners following the sports underdog story to a tee. From humble origins to mighty victories, the audience has always found joy in the tales of the sporting dark horses such as Jamaican Bobsledders or Philadelphia Boxers. That inspiring dream that the downtrodden can become triumphant, making the world feel a little brighter against life’s hardships as a Welsh racehorse becomes that beacon for the characters.
It’s a monotonous life for Toni Collete’s Jan Vokes, an empty nest mother and wife who spends her days scanning groceries at the local co-op in her small Welsh village. Extended to the rest of the residents subconscious yearning for an escape from the predictability of their small lives. Jan, with life experience training animals alongside her husband Brian, overhears Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) one-night bragging of former glory with his wealthy racing syndicate and takes the initiative to begin breeding her very own racehorse. Using her savings to purchase a mare, Jan, Howard and Brian recruit their own modest organisation of locals to pony up the costs of ten pounds a week to raise, train and manage their foal in the long shot it could ever actually race. Though no one in the syndicate invests in Dream for riches or glory as Howard makes clear the low odds of possible success, they are all driven by the “hwyl” a Welsh feeling of emotional motivation and energy.
Lyn’s direction and Neil McKay’s screenplay follows the predictable beats of the feel-good film but with their own flair of the ‘hwyl’ beating through. It’s the impassioned down-to-earth performances from the ensemble which gives an infectious pride to the whole affair. Collette focusing on Jan’s connection with Dream, regarding the animal with a mother’s love, heavily invested in his wellbeing. Lewis’ Howard reflecting on his own legacy as a cog in a corporate machine, inspired by Dream to pursue a more soulful existence. Owen Teale’s authentic emotion as Brian feeling his best days are behind him as an arthritic unemployed farmer. The characters share that insecurity of letting life pass them by, submitting to their depressing routines and how Dream becomes their motivation to seek self-betterment. The drama is balanced well with the supporting syndicate members delivering lighthearted comedic moments especially Karl Johnson as local drunk Kirby.
Dream Horse feels safe in execution with minor conflicts trickling throughout concerning the horse’s ability or tension within the syndicate. These struggles either being resolved quickly within the scene or extended briefly in a trivial fashion. Every step of the way Jan and the syndicate are sneered upon for daring to try and be a part of an exclusive club usually reserved for “wealthy professionals” with the minor exploration of themes of wealth inequality and classism. The racing itself is exhilarating yet lacks intrigue, as the formulaic underdog structure makes it obvious that Dream has to be successful, Lyn focusing more on the camaraderie of the group overcoming these stigmas and obstacles through shared love and belief in Dream. Bolstered by the stirring folky score from Benjamin Woodgates and the odd belting out of a Tom Jones song.
The “hywl” pays off in the end as Dream Horse is an uplifting, charming true story filled with inspirational warmth for all the dark horses and dreamers out there, wonderfully told through the heartwarming performances from Collette, Lewis and Teale.