Equal Emphasis is Given to the Excellent Lewis
by Dennis Harvey | Variety | January 26, 2020
Louise Osmond’s 2015 Sundance audience winner “Dark Horse” was one of those documentaries that played like a crowdpleasing fiction, its real-life tale of underdog triumph had such a conventionally satisfying narrative arc. And indeed, the new “Dream Horse” proves that same material is indeed ready-made for dramatization.
Euros Lyn’s feature springs few true surprises within its familiar genre, one that U.K. filmmakers have specialized in at least since “The Full Monty.” Still, this is a well-cast, artfully handled effort that exercises sufficient restraint to really earn its requisite laughter and tears. Likely to have broad appeal, with strong word-of-mouth from its own Park City premiere, it looks to be one of the strongest commercial prospects at Sundance this year.
Toni Collette is in fine form as Jan Vokes, a middle-aged South Wales native whose life in declining former mining town Cefn Fforest has hit a seemingly permanent slump. Her children have left the nest, arthritic husband Brian (Owen Teale) mostly just parks himself in front of the telly, and her two jobs (bartending at the local social club/pub and cashiering at a big-box store) are joyless dead ends. She and Brian have always been keen on animals, each raising award-winning livestock from an early age. But currently they’re down to some geese, a lazy dog and the odd goat.
One day a newish patron (Damian Lewis) at the pub, bragging about his purported glories as part of a racehorse investing syndicate, piques Jan’s interest. After doing some research, she informs the incredulous Brian that they’re buying a brood mare, then actually goes out and does it. The next thing is to draft local investors to fund the considerable costs of orchestrating insemination by a racing stallion, raising the offspring, training, et al., with only the remotest chance of arriving at a winning competitor.