Image Credit: Warner Bros. UK & Ireland
Dream Horse is typical of a particular kind of British feel-good film with roots in the traditions of every from Ealing comedies to more recent underdog stories such as 'The Full Monty', 'Brassed Off', 'Calendar Girls', and 'Military Wives'.
Based on a true story, the drama concerns small-town Welsh shop assistant Jan Vokes (Toni Colette), whose life of routine drudgery is given a shot in the arm when she forms a local syndicate to breed and train a racehorse.
Colette is excellent in the lead, with no trace of American in her spot-on Welsh accent. Damian Lewis provides admirable support as Howard Davies, a man whose previous involvement in a racing syndicate almost cost him his house and marriage. Elsewhere Owen Teale is splendid as Jan’s self-loathing but supportive husband Brian.
The other colourful members of the syndicate add plenty of character.
The other colourful members of the syndicate add plenty of character, as our working-class heroes go up against the toffs at the races to suitably outrageous effect. An agreeably snooty Peter Davison pops up as rival racehorse owner Lord Avery, but a more sympathetic wealthy character is found in Nicholas Farrell’s horse trainer Philip Hobbs.
Screenwriter Neil McKay spares us no against-the-odds trope, with every plot development well and truly signposted and duly ticked off. From scepticism to gradual support from the locals, through gaining the support of Hobbs, initial race triumphs, internal syndicate disagreements, initially unsupportive wives being won over, sudden death, the all-is-lost moment, and the miraculous, triumphant finish. And yes – we aren’t spared the eye-rolling cliché of here-are-the-real-people over the end credits.
And yet, although 'Dream Horse' is hardly challenging cinema, and although it often reminded me of superior equine dramas (Seabiscuit for instance), it is well directed by Euros Lyn (a name I mainly associate with Doctor Who episodes), and it’s impossible not to admire Jan’s sheer spirit and determination.
The film occasionally makes some well-judged political jabs.
The film occasionally makes some well-judged political jabs to leaven the sentimentality (Howard’s furious tirade to his tax avoidance firm boss about helping the rich get richer, for instance). However, for the most part, this isn’t a Ken Loach polemic, but a pleasant, entertaining, satisfying watch that pushes all the right buttons, and is suitable for all ages. Despite the shameless audience manipulation, you will feel better going out than you did coming in, and any film that can do that deserves praise.