Film & Television

Movie Review: Dreaming Big in ‘Dark Horse’

Small town, big dream, unlikely odds. That’s a movie genre that the Brits do particularly well — from The Commitments (1991) to The Full Monty (1997) to Billy Elliot (2000). Louise Ormond’s wonderful new documentary follows that tradition with a bit of a twist. It’s as if the little dancer giving it his all (or the grownup dancers baring their all) had four feet instead of two.

The unlikely hero of Dark Horse — no surprise, with that title — is, indeed, a horse.

Ormond began her career as a journalist before moving into documentaries. Her previous films include Richard III: The King in the Car Park (about the discovery of the infamous monarch’s remains), Deep Water (about a yachtsman who drove himself mad and committed suicide), The Beckoning Silence (about a mountain climber’s devastating injury) and Killer In A Small Town (about the aftermath of a serial killer).

After those well-received but rather depressing projects, the true story behind Dark Horse must have seemed uplifting indeed.

After “a chance visit to the Boxing Day races in 2012,” Ormond decided that she wanted to make a film about the racing world. She researched for several days, then came across the stranger-than-fiction story of Welsh racehorse Dream Alliance, an unlikely champion bred by a syndicate of average folk in the former mining town of Cefn Fforest. Ormond remembers, “I knew within seconds I’d do anything to make it into a film.”

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The movie (and the true story) begins with a local barmaid, Jan, who comes up with a scheme to breed a racehorse. (She has absolutely no experience with horses, but dabbled in pigeon- and whippet-breeding when she was younger). Her husband, Brian, is not optimistic but knows better than to cross Jan when she sets her mind to something. They enlist the aid and expertise of Howard, a local tax accountant (who once lost a good deal of money in racing) and eventually open the endeavor to anyone who wants to contribute £10 a week.

This allows us to meet several of their neighbors, among them: Angela, Howard’s at first reluctant wife; Tony, a gregarious retired miner; and Maureen, a natural storyteller who knew nothing about horses, but bought into the dream with unbridled enthusiasm.

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  • Jj July 12, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Great review and I totally agree with you! It’s a rare treat to see a film like this which is heart warming but not coy. Has a serious message but is fun. A well bred movie!