A tale of an unlikely hero and a group of likable, scrappy townspeople? That is indeed the film equivalent of a weighted blanket.
Nothing is more heartwarming than an underdog story, and Dream Horse delivers in spades if you’re looking for the cinematic equivalent of a weighted blanket.
That is not a sarcastic remark. There is something extremely restorative about an old-fashioned drama that has you laughing, smiling, and perhaps even crying – tears of joy, not sadness.
Dream Horse is that film, 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.
Jan Vokes (Collette) awakens each morning in bed with her husband Brian (Owen Teale) and their Irish wolfhound. She rises and goes to work at a nearby supermarket, then visits her elderly parents, prepares dinner, and then goes to her second job as a bartender.
When Jan overhears accountant Howard Davies (Lewis) telling stories about his glory days as a member of a racing horse syndicate, an idea is born – an idea that offers an escape from the mundane routine she has settled into.
With only a few hundred pounds, she purchases a mare and makes an offer to her town’s residents: chip in ten pounds per week and you will receive an equal share of the mare’s foal.
The syndicate began with a billiards table and a light that could only be turned on with 50p at a time. The ragtag group was not comprised of toffs incapable of picking up a ten-pound note that flew up to them on the ground.
These are working and retired residents of a former mining town that has seen better days, where a weekly ten-pound contribution is a stretch, where days end with degunging the mincer, and where small pleasures come from Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. At the races, they tend to stand out in the owners’ box.
Dream Alliance, the syndicate’s foal, would go on to have an unexpected career – otherwise, no one would have heard of this story, and it would not have become this film (and a 2015 documentary that premiered at Sundance).
Dream Horse, directed by Euros Lyn and written by Neil McKay, does not delve into the dubious ethics of horse racing – nor would you expect it to; it is not that kind of film – and instead focuses on the characters of Jan and Howard and the purpose and sense of community introduced into their lives.
Collette and Lewis are both sensitive performers who can infuse their roles with renewed determination and vitality, while the supporting cast includes Teale, Sian Phillips, Joanna Page, and Karl Johnson.
When the syndicate is formed, Howard informs the members that there is a less than 1% chance they will ever earn any money, and the only reason to join is for “hwyl.”
“Hywl” is a Welsh word that refers to a “feeling of emotional motivation and energy” – and Dream Horse’s likable story is certainly brimming with “hwyl.”