NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on June 9, 2021
Dream Horse, based on the documentary Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance, follows a little welsh town that’s landed on hard times. Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) is feeling particularly hopeless, going from between her work at the co-op and her bartending job in order to make ends meet while dealing with her distant husband Brian (Owen Teale) and her parents, both of whom lean on her help more and more.
After running into Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), a former horse breeder, Jan gets the idea to start a collective in the town that will pool their money to breed a racehorse. After talking a gaggle off locals, from the butcher to the little old lady down the street and even the town drunk, Jan manages to get a breeding mare who eventually birth Dream Alliance, the dream horse that will give this little welsh town just a little bit of hope.
If you ever want to see the definition of the term “Quaint” in film form, Dream Horse is exactly that. A small town underdog story that is almost beat for beat the exact movie that one expects when they go to see a film about a town buying a horse. There’s a lot of scenes set in small towns that look like they could be from any point in the last century, a lot of sweeping shots of lush greenery with horses and more than a few moments where the lower class locals rub up sharply against the hoity toity upper class twits who look foolish because of their stature… basically, this is the movie your grandmother’s going to love.
The simple formulaic story, one you can pretty much call beat for beat before the end of the opening credits, gives the cast a chance to really shine… and by that I mean everyone bow down to lord Toni Collette for once again proving that she can do literally anything she wants and make it seem effortless. It feels like it’s unfair to say “Dream Horse works mostly because of Toni Collette” because it has a large ensemble cast who all do a fantastic job and all of them deserve endless praise but… yeah, Dream Horse works mostly because of Toni Collette.
Dream Horse lives and dies on Jan’s connection with Dream Alliance, a connection that borders on supernatural at times (there’s enough scenes where she’ll be in the stands and whisper something and the horse will suddenly go faster, I’m just saying that witchcraft has to be involved there) and that connection is the backbone of the film. The film might be theoretically about this small town learning to have hope again but in reality it’s a story about Jan and a horse she buys and then only sees whenever he races.
That’s actually the part of Dream Horse that kind of doesn’t work. For as much as it’s a story about a village who buys a horse, once the horse is old enough to be trained and start racing it only appears sporadically whenever the villagers go to watch it race. They don’t seem to have any part in it’s training or welfare beyond handing over money, so the race scenes have to work ten times harder to get the audience engaged in the emotion of the story. We only get these little moments to see the connection between the village and the horse, before the horse is driven off to learn how to race just off screen where we can’t see Dream Alliance grow or advance.
Then there’s just that whole vibe that there are no real consequences here. They’re not doing this to save the town hall or to raise money for charity, the closest we get to a consequence is when an accident happens on the track and there’s a momentary discussion about putting Dream Alliance down, before inevitable miracles happen and they’re fine. They’re just doing this because… boredom? Cos it seems like the main motivation behind this is boredom, which is fine but it’s not the most engaging storyline for a film. While this might be exactly how it happened in reality… well, this is why biopics change details, cos reality can be boring and you need to do something to make it more exciting for the audience.
Still, at the end of the day, Dream Horse is the kind of film that will work wonderfully when played at 3pm on a Sunday. It’s a good watch, charming and funny with enough talent on screen to make it a nice easy watch while you’re having tea and a biscuit. If nothing else, the cast is charming enough to make everything work and be enjoyable enough to watch. That’s probably the best description for it, it’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s enjoyable enough to be worth at least a little look.