Review: 'Dream Horse' (2021) Dir. Euros Lyn
Based on a true story that emerged from the rolling countryside of South Wales, this proves a small story that unites a community makes for empowering storytelling on the big screen...
South Welsh couple Jan (Collette) and Brian (Teale) Vickers live a very plain, ordinary life. With Jan working two jobs and Brian retired, both have lost the zest of what life once gave them.
When accountant and avid horse racing fan Howard Davies (Lewis) inspires Jan with stories of how horse breeding and racing can stir up passion and achievement in, Jan and Brian rear a foal with the intent to nurture him and eventual race him.
Forming a syndicate with some of the supportive community for their horse - Dream Alliance - the once sleepy village is stirred by what Dream presents. Jan never loses faith as Dream thunders into racing headlines, but not without personal struggles for them all to face...
The British film industry does a wonderful job of the underdog story. Rising up against an otherwise down-trodden lifestyle, full of boring routine and near to no excitement, audiences love a relatable, charming journey. In the same spirit as Stephen Merchant's Fighting with My Family and Chris Foggin's Fisherman's Friends, 'Dream Horse' is a true story about ordinary people taking extraordinary risks and chances to fulfil a dream.
Toni Collette (with a beautifully perfect Welsh accent) is part-time shop assistant and bartender Jan Vokes and Owen Teale is retired husband Brian. While Brian is content living for the countryside and rearing animals, Jan misses the passion of both her hobbies and her relationship, reduced to a stagnant routine with little spark to motivate her. It's only when Jan overhears Damian Lewis as accountant and horse breeder Howard Davies that she gets the motivation and daring to do just that; breed a horse to nurture, raise and race.
A syndicate is formed of all the colourful local faces in the community, holding meetings in the pool room of the pub to raise funds and establish a backing to get their new foal - Dream Alliance - in prime shape. Regardless of context, these British stories are all based around the characters and the story. Nothing but home-grown talent, picturesque hills and settings and underlying heart make this a real family-friendly, wholesome drama full of sweet charm and spirit.
Director Euros Lyn has forged a career in British drama and comedy, bringing everything successful from his career for another easy watching and entertaining story.
This sort of story is always guaranteed to be a comfort to audiences who know just what they want from a film like this. Heart and gentle humour, but with exploration of personal stories and character choices along the way that add some meat to the bones of each individual.
Set in a quaint South Wales village, it's an environment we are all familiar with and would love to be in. A place where neighbours greet each other with a smile, small businesses rely on community and there's never a stranger to be found, be it in the local pub, the supermarket or the backstreets. And it's a community full of wonderful British talent, many of them acclaimed Welsh actors we know from hit shows on TV (looking at you, Gavin & Stacey).
Under the expertise of Lyn as a director getting the most from an acclaimed cast, there is no waste of character or story, and it's a nice change of focus being a horse racing narrative, offering some glimpses into a world many do not know about. And being a true story, you can't help but be invested from the start.
A tender score by Benjamin Woodgates and a soundtrack of Brit pop ticks the boxes as expected for a film like this, tenderness, fun and excitement in equal measure. Races held at the famous Chepstow, Newbury and Aintree racecourses are filmed brilliantly, full of that heart-pounding drama that all race sequences carry, but now with thundering hooves and heavy snorting of mighty beasts mixed with the roar of a passionate crowd. These sequences never fail to get the palms sweaty waiting for the (not always predictable) outcome.
Moving along at a steady for pace just under 2hrs, the story never drags and there is enough development in all acts to progress the journey taken from beginnings, middles and ends. Of course, this is a story aimed at a specific audience, but for that audience it will do well amidst the heavy slew of loud, popcorn munching blockbusters.
Family-friendly, full of British charm and heart, 'Dream Horse' does just what you'd expect from a true story brought to life by a perfect cast and crew for the job.
'Dream Horse' is a co-production between Cornerstone Films, Film4, Raw, Ingenious, Topic Studios and FFilm Cymru Wales