Dream Horse offers 'a feelgood story of dauntless community spirit against the odds'
DREAM HORSE (PG, 113 mins)
Drama/Comedy/Romance. Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Joanna Page, Nicholas Farrell, Alan David, Lynda Baron. Director: Euros Lyn.
Released: June 4
REVERENTIALLY described as the sport of kings, horse racing has long been the preserve of royalty and the wealthy. A thoroughbred stallion of impeccable breeding with a glittering career on the racecourse can sell for more than £50 million and command six-figure stud fees.
In 2009, a 23-strong syndicate from the former mining village of Cefn Fforest in Gwent made headlines when their horse – a chestnut gelding named Dream Alliance – romped to victory at the Welsh Grand National.
The nags to riches fairy tale inspired Louise Osmond's award-winning 2015 documentary Dark Horse and six years later, a glossy dramatisation directed by Euros Lyn trots out a crowd-pleasing underdog story across the class divide in a similar vein to Brassed Off and The Full Monty.
"A horse raised on an allotment has got a cat in hell's chance of ever racing," chuckles one colourful character in Dream Horse.
Sporting history proves them wrong and scriptwriter Neil McKay draws heavily on interviews with the real-life owners to flesh out his menagerie of syndicate members led by Muriel's Wedding star Toni Collette.
She grapples valiantly with a melodic Welsh accent, and occasionally grazes closer to her native New South Wales, but beautifully conveys the passion of a wife who lives vicariously through her horse and rebuilds steely determination and self-belief with each small victory.
Collette plays Jan Vokes, who works as a supermarket checkout operator and a barmaid at the local working men's club in between caring for her parents (Alan David, Lynda Baron) and wearily stoking the embers of her marriage to husband Brian (Owen Teale).
Competitive passions of her youth – breeding whippets for show, racing pigeons – are a distant memory and the fire in Jan's soul has almost been extinguished until she overhears accountant Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) regaling drinking buddies with stories of a horse racing syndicate that almost bankrupted him.
Boozy banter sows the seeds of an outlandish idea.
"I'm going to breed a horse," Jan tells her incredulous husband.
"And I'm going to play fly-half for Wales!" jokingly responds Brian.
True to her word, Jan invests her savings in a gentle mare named Rewbell and persuades friends and neighbours to invest £10 a week to breed Rewbell and stable a chestnut foal with trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell).
Dream Horse is a feelgood story of dauntless community spirit against the odds, including a career-threatening injury to the horse that requires experimental stem cell therapy.
Collette, Lewis, Teale and co invest their patriotic villagers with relatable fears and earthy humour, building to a rousing singalong to Sir Tom Jones' Delilah over the end credits.
Exhilarating race sequences place cameras at the horses' eye level rather than with the jockeys so we are safely saddled with Dream Alliance until the final furlong.