‘Dream Horse’ Tells the True Story of an Inspiring Animal That Brought a Community Together
Toni Collette proves it’s never too late to live out one’s dreams in “Dream Horse,” an inspiring sports drama based on a true story. Colette stars as Jan Vokes, a middle-aged woman from Wales who, in the middle of working two jobs to support herself and her retired husband, realizes she has never truly lived for herself, having devoted her whole adult life to not only her husband, Brian (Owen Teale), but also years to her grown children and now to her aging parents (Di Botcher, Alan David). Her dream of raising a race horse grows into more than a distraction for one unhappy woman, as it becomes something that ends up bringing together a community.
Jan gets the idea of raising a race horse from a patron at the pub in which she bartends, Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), a corporate drone who previously almost lost everything after an ill-fated foray into racing. Despite this cautionary tale, Jan, who only has experience breeding pigeons, puts a plan in motion to buy a mare and breed a race horse. She runs into a problem when she crunches the number, which leads her to enlist a colorful cast of characters, local people who have experienced economic anxiety and need to be uplifted, to go in with her and create a syndicate that would collectively own the horse that is to be bred. The colt who is born, who is a fighter from the start, they name Dream Alliance, and he is raised on an allotment, a rented piece of farm, and he comes to be trained by British racehorse trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell).
Director Euros Lyn, who is currently in London filming the upcoming Netflix teen LGBTQ drama series “Heartstoppers,” recently chatted with Entertainment Voice via Zoom. He recalled how he first heard of Dream Alliance over ten years ago and was immediately attracted to this universal underdog story.
“When Dream Alliance ran his famous race here in Wales in 2009, it made all the headlines in the newspapers and it was all over the TV and everybody was talking about it in pubs, because it was already an almost mythological or fairytale story about this horse that had been brought up in a backyard by a woman with no money who goes on to become this incredible champion at the sport of kings, where millionaires and aristocrats tend to rule the roast. So, there’s something intrinsic about this story that appealed to me.”
According to Lyn, screenwriter Neil McKay did extensive research in order to create a very dimensional human story, and he spent much time talking to the real people involved. The result is not only an inspiring sports film with a strong message about the importance of community, but also a intimate portrait of a woman taking charge of her life. Having gotten pregnant by Brian at age 17, she had to start living for others at a very young age, and now her husband prefers the television to her company and her needy parents take advantage of her. Her father, Bert, still voices his disapproval of Brian after 30 years. Colette does an excellent job of bringing to life the different sides of this woman who finally decides to live her dreams after years of being pulled in different directions.
Lyn revealed that he thought of Collette as soon as he read McKay’s script. “I needed an actor who had steel, determination, who could be funny, who could win the audience’s hearts and go to those emotional places and make the audiences really care about her, and Toni was absolutely top of the list. She’s a huge movie star; she’s always working. Either she’s making ‘Knives Out’ or she’s doing ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things,’ or she’s in a Netflix show. She’s so prolific, so getting the script to her was a bit of a challenge.”
Fortunately, Lyn had a writer friend who was able to pass along the screenplay to Collette, and she was just as inspired as Lyn by this story of this woman who achieved her dream, found a sense of purpose, and inspired her community in the process. The Australian actress went about preparing to play a woman from the opposite side of the world, and her preparations included working with an accent coach.
Then there’s Howard, whom Jan convinces to join the syndicate. We come to learn that horse racing for him is wrapped up in memories of his late father, a man who lived a life similar to the one Jan was living. Unfortunately, he has to keep his new project from his wife, Angela (Joanna Page). Although Angelea loves her husband, she understandably doesn’t want him involved in something that could drain their kids’ college funds, or even worse.
While Lewis is best known for playing what Lyn calls “absolutely morally bankrupt characters” in series like “Homeland” and “Billions,” the director has been impressed by his comedic side since seeing him in the 2005 television movie “Much Ado About Nothing,” a modern adaptation of the Shakespeare play. “He was so funny and silly, and that really stuck in my mind as someone who could play this slightly morally complex character in our story… Damian seemed like a really good fit, somebody who was prepared to go to that darker place, and yet had the charisma and comic timing to find the lightness in the role.”
Despite their different backgrounds, Jan and Howard prove to be the perfect team to lead Dream Alliance to victory after victory. We follow them and the rest of the syndicate as Dream Alliance competes in race after race. Lyn filmed the racing scenes in such a way that keeps the viewer with the horse, a departure from most horse racing films in which the focus is usually on the jockey. Lyn explained how he went about this.
“The big challenge of the races for us was figuring out how we could get those shots over the horse’s shoulder, right in the horse’s face, feeling like we were right in the middle of those races. I had a brilliant team, a company called The Devil’s Horsemen, who do the horses for ‘Game of Thrones’ and all the big British movies. They’re such brilliant horse people. They could do things like ride the horse, hold the camera with one hand while looking over their shoulders to see what was coming behind them. They have these incredible skills, and they make it look very easy.”
But at the end of it all, “Dream Alliance” is really just a film about people coming together and living life. Watching it, the film reminds the viewer how we used to be able to gather in large crowds to watch sports and other large events, something we are on the track to be able to do again soon.
Said Lyn, “I couldn’t have imagined when we made this film two years ago that it would feel so pertinent to now, but this is a story about the power of community, that when we come together, we can overcome anything. It feels like that hopeful story is more than important to us now, coming out of these dark times, than it was before when we made the film. I really hope that audiences feel that the hope in the story is something that they can hold onto and bring into their lives.”
“Dream Horse” releases May 21 in theaters nationwide and June 11 on VOD.