Film Review: Dream Horse
Dream Horse Director: Euros Lyn
Cornerstone Films and Film4 In Theaters 05.21
The spring/early summer blockbuster season is more or less partially underway to some extent, pandemic style. With zombies and serial killers dominating, a small, feel-good sports drama is welcome counterprogramming. There are some sports—well, OK, basically all of them—that hold no interest for me in real life but always play well in the movies, and Dream Horse is the latest example of equestrian racing being toward the top of the list.
Dream Horse is the true story of Jan Vokes (Toni Collette, Hereditary, I’m Thinking of Ending Things), a small-town bartender in Wales who had an idea to breed a racehorse. With little money and no experience, Jan convinces her neighbors—starting with Howard (Damian Lewis, Band of Brothers, Homeland), a pub regular who has past experience with the racing circuit—to chip in their meager earnings to help raise a thoroughbred whom they name Dream Alliance. Their investment pays off as Dream rises through the ranks and becomes a beacon of hope in their struggling community, rises through the ranks with grit and determination and goes on to race in the Welsh Grand National.
Director Euros Lyn—who cut his teeth on episodes of Doctor Who, Sherlock and Daredevil—and writer Neil McKay (The Moorside) guide this film to victory with enthusiasm and love. Dream Horse starts off at a slow trot, but it hits its stride when the horse starts to race and we get pulled into the characters, with the help of a cast that is truly a dream alliance. Colette and Lewis are easily two of the finest, most underappreciated actors of their time, and they bring such a spark of humanity and relatability to their roles that it’s impossible not to care about them.
But Owen Teale (Game of Thrones) steals the movie as Brian, Jan’s soft-spoken. underachieving husband, who finds that Dream brings back the man he used to be. The genuine love that Jan and Brian feel for the horse as an individual being, almost as if he is their child, is what makes the film really special. The whole Dream Alliance community group is quite charming, especially Siân Phillips (Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, Summerland) as a widow named Maureen and Karl Johnson (Hot Fuzz, Peterloo, King Lear) as Kerby, the obligatory, lovably drunken old man who appears in any movie set in a small town in the U.K.
Lyn, working with cinematographer Erik Wilson (Paddington 2), sets the mood nicely and paints some pretty pictures. He’s faced with the challenge of capturing the dull listlessness of being stuck in a rut and coming out of it without letting the film itself feel too lifeless to care about as it starts out. For the most part, he finds a good balance, and he really nails the feeling of joy in a renewed and shared sense of purpose.
Dream Horse is a champion all around, within the confines of the formula crowd pleaser. It’s certainly the winning ticket if you want a good time at the movies this weekend. –Patrick Gibbs