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Dark Horse (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Dark Horse

Dark Horse


Featuring Jan Vokes, Howard Davies, Brian “Daisy” Vokes, Angela Davies, Tony Kerby, Maureen Jones, Eira Williams, Derek Williams, Johnson White, Andy Smith, Eddie Thomas, Wendy Adams, Neal Ellstone, Peter Williams, Joan Humphries, Tina Chinnick, Andrea Miskelly, Minnie Maude, Ida Faircloth, Clive Morgan, Craig Price, Martin Beecham, Peter Beecham, Bob Hodson, David Gwynne, Bruce Williams, Paul Hands, Gareth Morgan, Anthony Watkins, Tony Williams, Chris Boulton, Nicholas Boulton, Sian Price, Paul Morton, Angharad Jones, Will Biddick and Dream Alliance.

Written by Louise Osmond.

Directed by Louise Osmond.

Distributed by Sony Classics Pictures.  86 minutes.  Rated PG.

Horse racing is often known as The Sport of Kings.  This is mostly because you have to have a royal fortune to be able to afford to raise and sufficiently train a champion.

This is part of what makes the charming documentary Dark Horse so interesting – a group of commoners were able to crash the sport of Kings, and damned if they didn’t come close to going all the way.  In a world skewed towards businessmen and wealthy families (just on the most basic level, try getting a price quote for siring fees with a champion), somehow a collective of working stiffs revolving around a Welsh bar found, raised and trained a young horse and they came pretty damned close to riding him all the way to a championship.

Dream Alliance, despite being considered a huge longshot, won the 2009 Welsh National by 3/4 of a length.  He was considered to be one of the favorites of the 2010 Grand National, but the first of a series of health problems that led to his eventual retirement stopped him from finishing the race.

However, the most intriguing part of Dark Horse is that the horse is not necessarily the most interesting thing about the movie.  It is also a look at a colorful group of local eccentrics who dared to dream and came breathtakingly close to attaining all their dreams.

It all goes back to Jan Vokes, a middle-aged barmaid in the local pub.  When she found out that one of her regulars had once tried investing in a race horse – extremely unsuccessfully, by the way – she started obsessing on the idea of giving it a try.  She gathered together a group of pub regulars (including her husband and the guy who had tried before) to pitch in a small weekly stipend to find, raise and train a racehorse.  It is fun and exciting to see these common people rubbing elbows with the biggest names of racing as Dream Alliance climbs the ranks.

Unfortunately, the film also sometimes takes too much time wallowing in its subjects’ eccentricities.  One of the main owners (and Jan’s husband), Brian “Daisy” Vokes, who is interviewed extensively and shown in photos and news footage throughout, is quite noticeably missing most of his front teeth.  At the very end he says, “And, by the way, for the camera, I have got teeth.  They’re in the house, in a jar.”  Which in itself is fine, it’s an interesting view of the psyche of the man.  If it was said somewhere in the middle of the film, people would not give it a second thought.  However, that is the last line of the film.  Suddenly people are walking out of the theater thinking about this guy’s teeth rather than the inspirational story of Dream Alliance.  It’s an odd editorial choice, to say the least.

However, beyond being a rousing sports film, it’s also a fond look at life in a small town in Wales.

Not surprisingly, one of three pieces of outside music used in the film is an oldie by arguably the most famous Welshman of the last century, 60s pop singer Tom Jones.  “Green, Green Grass of Home” is a gorgeous song and welcome anytime, though, so it’s a nice placement.

In the end, whether Dream Alliance reaches their greatest dream is almost incidental.  A town, and a horse, fought the odds for a chance to grab the golden ring, and Dark Horse is a stunning look at their run against the odds.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: May 27, 2016.

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