Dream Alliance is an unlikely race horse bred by small-town Welsh bartender Jan Vokes. With no experience, Jan convinces her neighbors to chip in their meager earnings to help raise Dream in the hopes he can compete with the racing elites.
There’s an unassuming quality to Euros Lyn’s “Dream Horse,” a quiet reserve that serves this based-on-fact horse tale well. The equine in question is Dream Alliance, the underdog of all underdogs in the world of horse racing who, you could say, was willed into existence by Jan Vokes, a woman who was desperate to find something to live for. That she would settle on the notion of getting a racehorse, after having never owned a horse before was a surprise. That it would compete at the highest levels and win major purses boggles the mind.
Short on melodrama but long on sincerity, the film is anchored by the always reliable Toni Colette as Vokes, a woman very much in need of a bit of hope. She works two dead-end jobs and finds herself simply going through the motions, day after day. She loves her husband Brian (Owen Teale) but any passion they may have had for one another faded long ago. She talks, he responds without thinking, communication does not exist.
However, she gets an idea one day when she hears Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), a regular at the bar where she works, tell tales of the days when he once owned a racehorse. A seed is planted, it sprouts into a notion and soon blossoms into the most improbable of schemes. Jan does some research and concludes that she’d like to buy a brood mare, breed it and hopefully have a quarter horse that’s worth running as a result. Needless to say, this plan gets Brian’s attention.
It also sparks an interest in various citizens of the small English town where Jan lives, so much so that 23 of them decide to enter into a syndicate, ponying up 10 pounds weekly, just to be able to say they own a racehorse. And once the foal is delivered, which they dub Dream Alliance, they can say just that. However, what starts off as a financial investment soon becomes an emotional one as well, as the horse begins to show, place and then win in a series of races which they come to think may portend bigger things.
The animal’s career on the track is an engaging tale in and of itself, however screenwriter Neil McKay provides additional color by providing scenes centered on the group of eccentrics who backed this endeavor. The oddballs in the mix are used for comic relief, each of them contributing some good-natured humor at regular intervals, often at the expense of the gentry who resent the inclusion of these commoners taking in the rarified air they breathe.
Meanwhile, Collette and Lewis provide the heart and soul of the movie, giving us two people who find the courage to dream after each have suffered serious setbacks. The screen vets know that in dramas such as these, less is more. They both underplay key, quiet moments, giving emotional performances to poignant effect. They convey Vokes and Davies sense of pervasive ennui and cautious optimism in a relatable manner that has us in their respective corners from the start.
There are no surprises in movies such as this and that’s fine. We look to sports films for inspiration as, much like Jan, we need to be reminded of the power of hope and the possibility of miracles. “Dream Horse” ably supplies this, providing us with a moving story about a longshot that succeeded against the odds, an animal that continues to inspire long after having run his last race.