Now streaming on various On Demand platforms is British director Louise Osmond’s Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance. This engaging doc follows Jan Vokes, a small-town barmaid who, with her husband, decides to breed a racehorse who they name “Dream Alliance.” Enlisting the help of 23 friends, who form a syndicate to pay the expenses, Jan and Dream Alliance go on to stun the racing world.
Horse breeding in the UK is seen as an occupation for the wealthy. A lot of the film’s charm comes from seeing a village in South Wales come together and upset the apple cart of rich breeders who pour thousands of pounds into producing race-winning horses. After winning several races, Dream Alliance was lined up for the United Kingdom’s biggest racing event, the Grand National. Unfortunately, tragedy struck and Dream Alliance sliced a tendon. Most race horses who suffer a serious leg injury are euthanized. However, due to the quick thinking of the jockey and one of the owners, Dream Alliance was saved through expensive stem-cell treatment (paid for by the money saved by the village). Dream Alliance made a comeback and went on to win the 2009 Welsh Grand National with odds of 20-1. I knew nothing about horse racing before watching this film but, according to Tony Calvin writing in Betfair, the race, held every December 27th, is one of the sport’s biggest fixtures; Dream Alliance’s amazing win can thus also seen as a kind of “Christmas miracle.”
One of the most uplifting aspects of the film is the effect it had on people of the village in south Wales. The horse came to represent hope in an old mining village that has felt left behind. In an interview with Indie Wire, director Osmond talked about what drew her to the film: “I knew the first time I heard this story that I would do pretty much anything to make it. It was so funny and moving and life affirming; a classic rags to riches take. As the producer Judith Dawson and I started to spend time in the valley, it also became clear it was something that ran very deep for the people involved.” Osmond is considered one of Britain’s leading non-fiction filmmakers and has made films on topics ranging from British designer Alexander McQueen to filmmaker Ken Loach. Dark Horse deservedly won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance Film Festival.
A film about overcoming the odds, Dark Horse is a good example of the old saying about truth being stranger than fiction. Although made in 2015, this remarkable story should give many viewers some much-needed hope in the post-Brexit/post-Trump era.