Personal memories reach back to the 1944 film “National Velvet” and the compelling performance by 11-year old Elizabeth Taylor in her first starring role as a youngster training her horse, “The Pie”, for England’s Grand National race. Its an against-all-odds story with sympathetic elements bearing kinship to “Dream Horse,” echoing a similar improbable, yet optimistic pipe dream.
A fictionalized telling of true events, the screeenplay, based on the 2015 documentary “Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance”, starts from a dream vision evolving into reality. Academy Award nominee Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense 1999) stars as Jan Vokes, living a quiet, boring life in a small Welsh town. Even her marriage is unfulfilling as husband Brian (Owen Teale), a retiree, lacks romantic sentiments leaving her frustrated.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Jan takes on a personal project, a quest, beneficial not only to herself, but to enliven the economic life of the village. She has managed the checkout at the Co-op, and is employed nightly as a barmaid at the local, with the advantage of having the ear of the community.
In her youth, Jan bred whippets and racing pigeons, so with her get-up-and-go attitude aimed high, Jan reasons she could breed and train a horse to compete in big time racing, with the Welsh Grand National being the gold at the end of the rainbow. Though inexperienced in horsemanship, and with little in the bank account, Jan thoughtfully plots out strategy involving the struggling community. Local accountant Howard Davies (Damian Lewis “Billions” on tv), a race enthusiast, is receptive to the plan as being beneficial to the town folk. Though burdened with a questionable history connected to racing horses, he forefronts a chaotic group of locals to contribute 10 pounds weekly. This will enable hiring trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell) for the breeding and training of a racehorse (they’ve named “Dream Alliance”) who could ultimately win crowning glory.
Director Euros Lyn (“Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” on British television) has embellished his film with a glow of nostalgia wrapped in a warm atmosphere. The dialogue and gentle comedy, though somewhat dated, fits the small town ambience which contrasts against the blast of hard edged screen talk now assaulting our ears. Here, everyone is amiable, and despite an economic downturn, there is spunky optimism.
Feeling a close connection to her character as someone to whom she could relate, Collette says, “I am a sucker for an underdog story, feeling out of place, but having a certain amount of faith in oneself, just having this gut feeling of, ‘I have to pursue this. There’s no real clear reason why, except that I’m backing myself here and I feel it and I have to do it.’”
There’s more to see of the down under actress who’s been busy lately, appearing in Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated “Nightmare Alley” and the drama “Pieces of Her” for Netflix filmed in Sydney, Australia.
Everyone raises a “hurrah” for the underdog, and “Dream Horse” adds to the chorus.
It’s not a sport of kings tale of corporate stables spending big to win the big race, but like Billy Elliot, a lone individial with a hope leading to a dream fulfilled. Neil McKay’s screenplay is somewhat predictable though a hoof beat manipulative. But warm hearted human/animal bonding plays big along with Toni Collette’s amiable portrait of her character’s give-it-all optimisim galloping down the home stretch to equine glory.
Place your bets on “Dream Horse.” They’re at the post…..they’re off!!