REVIEW: Dream Horse [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 113 minutes
    Release Date: May 21st, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Bleecker Street Media / Topic Studios
    Director(s): Euros Lyn
    Writer(s): Neil McKay

The pigeons keep coming back.

A film about a Welsh horse named Dream Alliance doesn’t get made unless the ending holds a cup, but a horse like Dream Alliance doesn’t get the chance to win if not for the loveable band of small-town eccentrics who decided to set ten quid aside each week. For Jan Vokes (Toni Collette), Daisy Vokes (Owen Teale), and Howard Davies (Damian Lewis)—who had the idea, the breeding experience, and knew the racing world respectively—this was more than some hairbrained scheme to make money. They were all wallowing in memories of better days like the rest of their neighbors who had seen their hopes dwindle and their bank accounts deplete. Raising Dream was therefore about reclaiming their own worth for themselves. He reminded them how to live.

That awakening is what director Euros Lyn and screenwriter Neil McKay deliver with Dream Horse. It has its fair share of action with close-up shots of hooves pounding dirt and clearing hurdles, but that excitement is mere backdrop for the smiles on faces of those who came together to shine a light on home. Win or lose, Dream inevitably gets their whole town crazed if for no other reason than the fact their name is in the news. This place the world had forgotten was clawing its way back from obscurity on the saddle of an animal too often judged on those who escorted him through the gates of racetracks worth more than their combined property. Its heroes didn’t just look like them. They were them.

It’s what sports provide: a common sense of identity. And despite Dream’s pristine physique being at the forefront of that image, these toothless and drunk “commoners” were right by his side every step of the way to ensure the elite owners breeding for profit were forced to acknowledge that money couldn’t buy everything. Not that some of Jan’s partners weren’t ready to let it, though. When you have a syndicate built on the premise of “one person, one vote,” it’s difficult to assert a position of leadership amongst them regardless of your efforts to make things happen while they helped foot the bill. Because it’s only “fun” and “emotionally cleansing” if it doesn’t also become lucrative. Finding balance and sticking to it is far from assured.

That’s where the familial dynamics enter. While bar owners, butchers, and drunks (Karl Johnson at his finest) add comic relief and conflict when it comes to answering the hard questions success ultimately creates, Jan and Howard are the ones spearheading the effort for important personal reasons. In certain circumstances one could say theirs are selfish reasons too considering how steadfast they are in trying to prove their worth through this horse, but that would only be cynical thinking here due to the heavy burdens they’ve been carrying. Howard almost bankrupted his family chasing a dream to honor his father and Jan had never truly felt like a real person underneath the shadow of her parents, children, and husband. They sought to escape feelings of being trapped by life.

What that entails only appears generic because the troubles they face are universal. Jan has parents who resent Daisy and find it impossible to show their pride in her so as not to reverse those sentiments. Daisy in his own right has settled into a monotonous life devoid of self-fulfillment that Jan can no longer accept now that their children have flown the coop. And Howard finds himself lying to his wife (Joanna Page‘s Angela) because she vowed to leave him if he ever tried owning a horse again. They’ve resigned themselves to fates far beneath their aspirations and for the first time in years they have an opportunity to demand more of themselves and each other. They merely have to open their mouths and ask.

Those motions are as familiar as the struggles on the track—this type of film demands a couple miracles at least—but what else were you expecting from a feel-good movie giving an obscure yet heartfelt tale the Hollywood treatment? We’re here to embrace the melodrama and sail away on a manipulative score so that the emotions wrought from both can wash over us in good times and bad. Lewis hams it up at times while the supporting cast goes for broke to earn their place with laughter, but both Collette and Teale understand they can’t afford to lose our investment by falling prey to the celebratory spirit that cannot exist without their characters’ pain. We need to know they’re lost before they can be found.

And Dream Horse allows us that imperative. It lets them evolve from the doldrums of rote lives by finding a reason to accept joy into their home again. It also lets them stumble back into those old patterns so that the lessons they learned can truly stick. Jan and Daisy have to realize coasting by on what life has given them isn’t enough. If Dream can persevere through underestimation and injuries, they can do the same too. Maybe it’s ignoring the whispers being spoken behind their backs by family and strangers alike or maybe it’s also letting the anger out to prove they still have some passion left in them. More than just living vicariously through their horse’s victories, they’ve allowed themselves a place upon his podium too.

[1] (L to R) Brian (Owen Teale), Nerys (Di Botcher), Gordon (Brian Doherty), Jan (Toni Collette), Howard (Damian Lewis) and Maldwyn (Anthony O’Donnell) in Euros Lyn’s DREAM HORSE, a Bleecker Street and Topic Studios release Credit: Kerry Brown / Bleecker Street & Topic Studios
[2] Toni Collette stars as Jan Vokes in Euros Lyn’s DREAM HORSE, a Bleecker Street and Topic Studios release Credit: Kerry Brown / Bleecker Street & Topic Studios
[3] Toni Collette stars as Jan Vokes and Owen Teale stars as Brian Vokes in Euros Lyn’s DREAM HORSE, a Bleecker Street and Topic Studios release Credit: Kerry Brown / Bleecker Street & Topic Studios

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