A Warm-Hearted Tribute to a Spirited Animal and People
by Mark Jenkins | Slant Magazine | May 17, 2021
***3 out of 4 stars***
Anyone who’s seen Dark Horse, Louise Osmond’s 2015 documentary about a group of poor Welsh villagers pooling their money to bankroll a race horse, will know what’s going to happen in Dream Horse, a fictionalization of the earlier film. But, then, so will anyone who’s ever seen an underdog sports movie, or one of those British ensemble comedies that celebrate working-class hopes and schemes. The comic drama works because of the smarts and relative subtlety of Euros Lyn’s direction and Neil McKay’s screenplay, and thanks to a winning cast of Welsh locals and a few outsiders, notably the versatile Toni Collette, who never lets her accent slip from south Wales to her native New South Wales.
Collette deftly plays Jan Vokes, a middle-aged empty-nester who tends a supermarket cash register by day and a social-club bar at night. Her affinity for animals is established in the opening scene, in which she awakens in the bed she shares with her long-unemployed husband, Brian (Owen Teale), and a huge dog, before then stumbling into the kitchen to be greeted by a convalescent goose. Jan doesn’t covet a horse until she overhears local tax accountant Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) at the club, boasting about his success with a horseracing syndicate. (The story is partly true but missing some sobering details.) Inspired, Jan calls a meeting of neighbors in the depressed former mining town, and persuades enough of them to tithe weekly to fund the purchase of a mare. The winning argument involves hwyl, a Welsh word that can be translated as “fun” but also as “collective spirit.”