500 Days Of Film Reviews Dark Horse, Louise Osmond’s Inspirational Film About A Dream Alliance
Dark Horse is set in a small Welsh mining village called Cefn Fforest.
The documentary tells the true story of this community who, in early 2000, decided to enter the sport of kings - the elite world of horse racing.
Their journey began when barmaid, Jan Vokes, overheard businessman, Howard Davies, talking about the time he owned a racehorse.
Having bred pigeons and whippets, Vokes was inspired to breed a racehorse of her own.
The two pooled their expertise and finances and bought a cheap (but not particularly promising) thoroughbred mare, paired her with an aging stallion and raised the foal on their slagheap allotment.
This was still no cheap venture, of course. As a result, Vokes and Davies asked people from their community to join a syndicate. The group of 23 each agreed to contribute £10 per week.
They then set about training their horse - calling him Dream Alliance.
What followed took Vokes, Davies and the entire community on a truly remarkable and inspiring journey.
Is It Any Good?
Dark Horse is a movie about beating the odds. There are few (cinematic) things better for lifting your spirits than seeing an underdog rise up and win - particularly when that story is true.
At the beginning of Osmond’s brilliant documentary, Howard Davies talks about how the Dream Alliance syndicate “broke the mold. We actually went there (Aintree) and did it. And we did it for a tenner a week. It’s elation when you can do something - particularly when no one gives you a chance.”
I also felt a sense of elation whilst watching Dark Horse. I found myself gripped (literally on the edge of my seat at one point), inspired and deeply moved by this film.
Dark Horse is full of wonderful, down-to-earth characters who talk openly and honestly about their remarkable experience. They all understood that few in the racing world would take them seriously. But was that going to stop them?
Not a chance.
Jan Vokes is a brilliant storyteller - often tilting her head to give us a twinkly and mischievous smile. However, this is not a woman to trifle with. This, as her husband, Brian, points out, was literally her dream and when Jan says she is going to do something, she is going to do it.
The Dream Alliance venture was less a money making scheme than an endeavour to prove just what one small community could achieve. Having suffered through the pit closures, the village certainly needed a boost and Dream became a genuine source of hope and inspiration.
Both in good times and bad, the people of Cefn Fforest loved Dream and stood by him as one of their own. Of course, no one could have predicted just what this horse was capable of achieving.
Inspiring, funny, gripping and deeply moving, I would wholeheartedly recommend Dark Horse.
Louise Osmond has directed a number of documentaries including Deep Water (2006) about the disastrous 1968 round-the-world yacht race and Versus: The Life And Films Of Ken Loach (2016).
Osmond’s film is not only gripping but also gorgeous to watch. The location scenes of the Welsh valleys are stunning. Meanwhile, the film captures the mystery and majesty of horses - both thoroughbred and beautifully wild.
Hats off to Joby Gee for his superb editing work on this film.
Dark Horse won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
Have you seen Dark Horse?
If you have, what did you think about this documentary? Do let me know by leaving me a comment in the box below!