Chomping at the bit for this light hearted comedy, Gemma Creagh goes to the races.
Warm, well-paced and a wonderfully satisfying watch, Dream Horse tells the outrageous, true story, about how a group of villagers in a forgotten Welsh town pooled together to achieve the impossible.
Toni Collette plays the fiery bartender/check out assistant, Jan Vokes. Exhausted by working two jobs while caring for her elderly parents and lazy husband, Brian (Owen Teale), Jan longs for something more. When she overhears the somewhat pompous financial advisor Howard Davies played by Damian Lewis (back in the acting saddle on a break from Billions – the polar opposite of this film in every way). Howard spins an impressive yarn about his time on a syndicate that owned a winning racehorse, which leads Jan to start researching… A long-time animal lover with a penchant for rearing pigeons and dogs, Jan decides no matter what her dad or husband thinks, she is going to breed a racehorse. And that is that.
With limited resources and no experience, Jan still manages to convince her local community to chip in a tenner a week in order to create a syndicate of her own. This “Dream Alliance” breathes new life into its mismatched collection of members. From Howard and his city-based finance friends, to local butchers, politicians and one rowdy drunk, all these intersecting lives are changed forever when, against all odds, their horse, Dream begins to compete. Rising up through the ranks of the racing elite, Dream’s success touches the Welsh nation – but this upward journey is not without its hurdles.
This film merges everything enjoyable about underdog sports films with the spirited working class comedies we all know and love; if The Full Monty and Billy Elliot ended up in a polyamourous relationship with The Mighty Ducks, this would be their collective lovechild. The warm portrait of small town life, the foray of funny, well-drawn characters, and the simple clean writing means this film delivers everything it promises in the trailer.
The biggest draw of Dream House is by far is the familiar figure of matriarch Jan Vokes – a woman who will do anything for anyone, but takes absolutely no shit if it comes from above. From zany mental health comedies (United States of Tara) to unsettling folksy horror (Hereditary) I have never seen Aussie native Toni Collete give a bad performance, and her tender embodiment of Jan was no exception. Although my knowledge of the Welsh accent is limited, and based solely on owning a Catatonia album as a tween, and watching Rob Brydon in the Trip – to my untrained ear, both Toni and the very English, flame-haired, Damien, did a decent job embodying the singsong lilt of our Celtic neighbours.
With Welsh-born director Euros Lyn and Padddington DOP Erik Wilson at the reins, the visuals of this film are a well-paced, love letter to horse racing, interspersed with a striking destination advert for Wales. The stunning drone footage of the rural countryside, teamed with the shots of Cardiff as a towering metropolis, all while showcasing the rustic, charming villages, will surely get the yanks visiting, buying dragon-key rings in droves.
If you’re a fan of impromptu Welsh-themed musical numbers, great performances delivered through strong regional accents, and films that wear their heart on their bridle, then you’ve hit the trifecta with Dream Horse – a film well worth catching on the big screen.