Greetings again from the darkness. Feel-good, underdog sports stories are a dependable addition to the entertainment value many seek from movies. Director Euros Lyn (shout out for the first 3 episodes of “Happy Valley”) and writer Neil McKay take us to South Wales for the unlikely true story of Dream Alliance, a racehorse whose saddle carried the hopes of a downtrodden small town. Only rather than focus on the horse, this is the story of the townspeople who desperately needed something to believe in.
Toni Collette (THE SIXTH SENSE, 1999) stars as Jan Vokes, a South Wales villager working two jobs. She also cares for her arthritic husband and her elderly parents, while wondering why her life is so mundane and joyless. Her affinity for animals is apparent by the dog in her bed (not her husband) and the rehabilitating goose in the kitchen. She also has a history of prize-winning with whippets and pigeons. One evening while working at the local pub, she overhears blustering bravado from a customer named Howard Davies (Damian Lewis, “Billions”) who regales his drinking buddies with tales of his time in a syndicate for a racing thoroughbred. After a bit of research, Jan decides she’s going to purchase a mare in order to breed and raise her own race horse.
The fun begins when Jan, with the help of Howard, puts together a syndicate of local town folks in order to bankroll her idea. It’s kind of a rag-tag group, including the town drunk (Karl Johnson). But their passion clearly brings hope where it’s been lacking for a while. Howard, an accountant by trade, has to initially keep the whole thing secret from his wife (Joanna Page), who has no tolerance after his last syndicate almost cost them everything.
Jan’s husband Brian (Owen Teale, “Game of Thrones”), aka Daisy, jumps in to help, though this is one segment that detours from what we saw in the 2015 documentary, DARK HORSE (an audience winner at Sundance). It’s likely Brian’s work was more important than what this dramatized version leads us to believe. Here, the focus is on Jan, and of course, the always reliable Ms. Collette, is strong in the role. However, when Dream Alliance disappears for long stretches of the movie (while off with trainer Philip Hobbs played by Nicholas Farrell), we forget that it’s the story of a horse. Beyond that, we rarely see Jan with Dream Alliance, yet we are supposed to buy a “horse whisperer” connection between the two. How and when did that happen?
The racing scenes are very well done and provide a jolt of energy to the film. The steeplechase jumps are especially impressive and stress-inducing. Cinematographer Erik Wilson provides a touch of realism both at the track and in the small town. This helps immensely since the story is mostly fluff with minimal conflict between the elite of horse racing and the blue collar folks of a mining town. The film ends with a group song of “Delilah” (by Welshman Tom Jones) that includes the real Jan and Brian, as well as others who were involved with Dream Alliance. It’s a true example of “Hwyl” no matter how you say it or how you define it.
Releasing in theatres on May 21, 2021 and On Demand June 11, 2021