Ahead of its release in April, Jason Best reviews this film with a remarkable horse, who was bred on a Welsh allotment, at its centre
Toni Collette is all heart in this rousing true-story comedy-drama about a barmaid in the Welsh valleys, who decides to breed a racehorse — and goes on to lift the spirits of her friends and neighbours in their former mining village after persuading them to back her quixotic venture.
When the film opens, Collette’s Jan Vokes is definitely down in the dumps herself. Her kids have left home and so have the champion pigeons she formerly raised, along with a variety of other best-in-class animals. Now she holds down two jobs, one in a supermarket, the other behind the bar of the local workingmen’s club, while her arthritic unemployed husband Brian (Owen Teale) seems to spend most of his time slumped in front of the box.
Jan wants things to change. And when she overhears a newcomer at the club, tax accountant Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), talking enthusiastically about his experiences as a member of a horseracing syndicate, she gets the germ of an idea. Why not form her own syndicate, buy a brood mare, and raise her own racehorse?
Following a spell of research — consulting Horse & Hound, of course — Jan manages to sell her plan to a motley bunch of folk in their South Wales village, including the initially reluctant Howard, Siân Phillips’ lonely widow, Anthony O’Donnell’s local know-it-all and Karl Johnson’s scruffy old reprobate (a Welsh cousin, surely, of The Last of the Summer Wine’s Compo). Naturally, when this misfit crew takes its first steps in the horseracing world, having successfully bred a colt they name Dream Alliance on an allotment, they couldn’t be more out of place.
“Sorry we didn’t come in a helicopter,” says Jan, arriving for a meeting with Nicholas Farrell’s expert trainer Philip Hobbs. Even so, following a few false starts and wrong turns, Jan’s endeavour picks up speed. So, of course, does Dream Alliance. And with Euros Lyn directing at a clip on and off the track, as the action builds towards the Welsh Grand National, we’re with him and his rag-tag backers all the way.
‘A tale of how a woman strives to make her dream a reality in a place where hope is thin
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Already the subject of the 2015 documentary Dark Horse, the story of Dream Alliance makes perfect feelgood cinema. Balancing warm-hearted humour with stirring racecourse action, the film taps into the same underdog spirit that made the classic Ealing comedies so loved, and in so doing fashions a joyous celebration of community, resilience and hope. Collette’s spunk and spirit carries the film to the winning post, but she’s well matched by delightful supporting turns from Lewis, Phillips, Johnson and co. A real charmer that’s guaranteed to put a lump in your throat.
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