Release date: 2015.
Review, short version: All thumbs up.
Review, long version:
I’m semi-reluctant to write about Dark Horse for fear of not doing the film justice.
I thought Dark Horse was such a good story, so well-done, and it resonated with me so deeply, but…
Can I do it justice?
Well, here goes.
Dark Horse is, on one level, about a horse. But it’s not a “horse” movie.
On another level, it’s about horse racing – steeplechase – but it’s not a “horse racing” movie.
Dark Horse is about a group of people who dreamed.
And they dared to dream big.
To get started we head to Blackwood, a town of about 24,000 people in southern Wales:
It’s a working-class town – the average income today is around $34,000 annually, so most people in Blackwell doesn’t have money to burn.
They averaged even less money back in 2000, when Jan Vokes (pictured) was working two jobs, one as a barmaid at the Blackwood Working Men’s Club. Getting involved in horse racing had never crossed her mind – thoroughbred horseracing is, after all, known as the “sport of kings” because generally, only royalty and the very rich can afford it.
Think Queen Elizabeth II and her thoroughbred, Estimate:
Owning a thoroughbred racing horse is a very expensive proposition. Figures I found from 2019 suggest that buying a championship quality thoroughbred “costs between $100,000 and $300,000” plus expenses, including a trainer; feed and bedding; blacksmith, veterinarian and dental services; entry fees for races; trainer and jockey fees if your horse does well in a race. Add in various types of insurance, plus taxes, and it’s indeed a sport for the wealthy, not the working class.
And the reality is, you can spend enormous amounts of money on a thoroughbred, and for whatever reason, it turns out not to be a winner. Or it’s a winner, but it gets hurt and can’t race again. Or its injuries are so severe, it must be euthanized.
Owning and racing a thoroughbred horse is so far out of the reach for most people, that most people don’t even think about it. And that included Jan Vokes, back in 2000.
Jan wasn’t a stranger to animal breeding – she’d bred champion whippets, both show dogs and racers, and once won a prestigious Welsh pigeon race. But a horse?
“Uffern na!” (Hell, no!) as they say in Wales.
Jan was at work at the bar one night when she overheard a local talking about how he’d lost a lot of money when he got involved with a racehorse, and that he’d promised his wife he’d never do anything like that again.
Something clicked for Jan.
It’s called a dream.
She tracked down the man from the pub, Howard Davies, and “asked him if he’d show me how to set up a syndicate. He thought I was dotty…”
Dotty: British slang for somewhat mad or eccentric.
Syndicate: A group of people who agree to invest in something together; in this case, the success of a horse that hadn’t even been born, much less run, or won, a race.
A huge part of the charm of Dark Horse is seeing these residents of Blackwood tell their unlikely story: Jan, who had a dream. Howard Davies, who’d promised his wife never again. Jan’s husband Brian, who, when she shared her dream, told her, “You can’t, you silly mare.”
And the friends and acquaintances whom Jan approached about joining her syndicate for 10 pounds a week. They also thought Jan, or at least her idea, was dotty.
Until something clicked for them, as well. Jan’s dream became their dream.
And the group’s horse became “Dream Alliance,” the “dark horse” of the film.
The phrase “dark horse” means, in part, “a candidate or competitor about whom little is known.”
Little was known about Dream Alliance.
And then that all changed.
And that’s all I’ll say.
But if I may, two suggestions:
First, don’t go online and read anything about Dream Alliance or Dark Horse, or about Dream Horse, the 2020 feature film based on the story. Just sit back, watch Dark Horse, and allow yourself to feel – as Howard Davies put it…
The “elation when you can do something, particularly when no one gives you a chance.”
Second, turn on the film’s English subtitles. English with a Welsh accent is lovely, but can be a bit challenging to understand.
Now: Join Jan and her friends and, as the Welsh would say…
Breuddwydiwch yn fawr!