The British working class underdog movie is a proven box office winner, and much more convincing, if not more sentimental, than its American cognate, which is usually centered on sports. This almost apologetically formulaic fictionalization of a true story that was the subject of a 2015 documentary reveals its unadorned intentions in the title, but thanks to some subtly subversive performances and a script that sticks to the emotional contours of the story without swerving into easy bathos, Dream Horse effectively makes its socioeconomic points while still scoring in the tearjerking sweepstakes.
The setting is a rural Welsh town where the middle aged protagonist, Jan Vokes (Toni Collette), holds down two boring jobs to support her and her husband, Brian (Owen Teale), whose unemployment seems to be chronic. Director Euros Lyn ably creates an atmosphere of small town conviviality that nevertheless conveys how most of the residents seem to have lost whatever mojo for life they once possessed before the local mine closed down. One evening, Jan overhears a local tax accountant, Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), in the social club where she tends bar in the evening talking to some acquaintances about his past success backing race horses. She can’t let go of the notion and eventually tries to get her neighbors interested in pooling their savings to back their own horse, which would mean actually buying one. Eventually, she convinces enough of them to participate out of a sense of “why not?” more than anything else.
The mare they buy produces a pony they name Dream Alliance that shows immediate promise, and with Howard helping out as chief consultant and, later, full-fledged joint owner, they find a trainer (Nicholas Farrell) who can get the young horse into real steeplechase races, meaning real prize money is at stake. At this point, the movie enters into a predictable course of alternating triumphs and setbacks, much of which is predicated on the interminable Welsh-English resentment, which itself is a class conflict that the writer, Neil McKay, renders with a lightness of touch that doesn’t detract from its ability to enrage. What never changes in the story, however, is the horse’s seeming will to win, which inspires not only the Welsh folks who have invested their lives in him, but the audience as well. It’s great to have something to cheer for without feeling that you’re being cleverly manipulated to do so.
Opens Jan. 6 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608).
Dream Horse home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2020 Dream Horse Films Limited and Channel Four Television Corporation