“Dream Horse” is a new British movie with Aussie Toni Collette in the lead role. But one of the surprises here is that this “based on a true story” film had a Welsh director (Euros Lyn) and mostly Welsh actors. No wonder group singing features.
The story is the one we call the “Rocky plot.” The British version of this template has been used to make “The Full Monty,” “Kinky Boots” and “Calendar Girls.” In all these the residents of small towns down on their economic luck find some way to gain national attention.
This is related to aging Rocky Balboa’s wanting to prove that he is “not just one of the bums in the neighborhood.” In “Calendar Girls,” for example, a group of middle-aged women living in Yorkshire pose for nude pictures for a calendar, the sale of which benefits leukemia research.
One of their husbands died from this variety of cancer. Making the calendar is the models’ way of proving their worth and showing that they are not past being effective.
The new Welsh movie begins with another woman in a small town who fears that life has gone on long after the thrill of living is gone. Wife of a reality show-watching unemployed man and with her careers as mother and animal trainer over, Jan (Collette) needs something to give her life zest.
She overhears an accountant (Damian Lewis) talking about the syndicate ownership of a race horse. According to this accountant’s experience, a group of small investors can pool their money (each giving £10 a week) to buy a mare, to have it impregnated, and to have the resulting off-spring trained and entered in races.
Never mind that Jan only has a hastily-constructed shed on an allotment (government land shared in small plots, usually for gardening) in which to house the horse. She uses fliers to help attract other investors.
They are the usual cast of oddities. An old inebriate with a penchant for stripping. An old chocolate-consuming woman who dresses like a thrift shop Queen Mother. The town’s female butcher.
And the accountant, though he keeps his investment a secret from his family. They lived through some financial misery associated with his last go as a horse syndicate member.
From there, the story pretty much writes itself. There is trouble at the colt’s birth. They have trouble getting a trainer to consider taking on “Dream Alliance” (as the investors have named the horse).
Dream has some trouble racing early in his career. Then, to his backers’ great delight, he has some success. And at the apex of the season, with Dream running in a steeplechase at Aintree (a prestigious racecourse near Liverpool), something life-threatening happens.
Everybody over the age of seven knows how this is all going to turn out — except maybe for the group singing. If you go to the theater to see “Dream Horse,” and you probably should, stick around for the credits.
Underneath them the cast and the real Welsh-speakers who lived the real life version of the story join to sing a spirited rendition of “Delilah.” Tom Jones the singer, after all, is Welsh. And the Welsh have long been known for group singing — there’s a racial and national stereotype nobody seems to be deriding.
The story’s central message is that we sometimes need to try something new to recall the thrill of living. In the end, the whole human population of Dream’s adopted hometown is out celebrating the triumph of people over dull routine.
The lesson is obvious, some of the plot turns are tear-jerking, and the story form is over-familiar. But “Dream Horse” is colorful and good-natured, and it builds to a peak. My, my, my, Delilah.