The Reel Review

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Toni Collette stars in the real life story of Jan Vokes, the Welsh bartender and supermarket worker whose unlikely racehorse, Dream Alliance, defied the odds to win the Welsh Grand National in 2009. The biopic follows the path of the 2015 documentary, Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance.

Toni Collette in Dream Horse.

This shamelessly predictable, feel good movie is an absolute delight, as Collette’s inexperienced but resourceful Jan convinces the quirky residents of her tiny, depressed Welsh working class village of Cefn Fforest to pool their meager savings and form their unlikely syndicate with little more than hope and hwyl – Welsh for “doing it for the love of it.”

Collette injects heaps of emotion into her performance, with an engaging ensemble cast led by Owen Teale (Game of Thrones) as Jan’s surprisingly supportive husband Brian, Damian Lewis (Homeland) as her horseman collaborator, and a whole host of Welsh TV and film celebrities.

Toni Collette and Damian Lewis in Dream Horse.

Screenwriter Neil McKay (The Moorside, Appropriate Adult) had no need to embellish the story, given how astonishing the real life events truly were. The good natured, fish out of water moments are charming with clever dialogue and an optimistic, can-do attitude. There is a lot of singing and a fun, pace-setting score chocked full of Welsh bands, culminating in an inspiring, joyous finale. Don’t miss the end credits. Dream Horse is a winner.

REEL FACTS

Brian and Jan Vokes with Dream Alliance.

• Welsh native Catherine Zeta-Jones was the original choice to play Jan, but she was ruled out as too glamorous and looking nothing like Jan Vokes. Vokes says Australian-born Toni Collette nailed her Welsh accent.

• Tunnock’s Teacakes, the shortbread/meringue/chocolate cookies that were a favorite of Maureen,  played by Dame Sián Phillips (Dune and I, Claudius), have been made by Tunnocks of Uddingston in Glasgow, Scotland since 1956.

• Dream Alliance never won another race after defying bookmakers’ 20-1 odds to win the Welsh Grand National.

 

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