The true story of ‘Dream Alliance’ - an unlikely racehorse who brings fame (if not exactly fortune) to her owners and the neighbours all of whom chipped in – was only a matter of time to before it made into a film, now available on DVD after the Covid pandemic had delayed the theatrical release. Toni Collette stars as a headstrong Welsh woman whose determination to improve the circumstances for her family suddenly sees her dream horse amongst the high profile world of horse racing and winning the Welsh Grand National.

Jan Vokes (T. Collette) and her out-of-work hubby Brian (Owen Teale with ridiculously bad teeth, fake of course) live a humble existence in a tiny Welsh backwater where unemployment seems high and the locals, including Jan herself, are stuck in dead-end jobs. Surrounded by farm animals including pigeons, Jan has to do two jobs in order to keep the household finances afloat. One job sees her working all hours under the sun in the local supermarket and when she’s not needed there she pulls pints and clears tables in one of the pubs. She’s further buckled down by having to look after her old and sick parents, in particular her dad is in a bad way but there’s no money for a care home (listen up, Boris!). In short, life for Jan is frustrating but what can one do?

One evening while working in the pub she overhears a conversation between two regular punters, one of them being Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), a likeable if somewhat brash lad bored senseless with his job as a tax accountant and interested in the world of horse racing. In fact, his fascination for the sport has already brought him into trouble with wife Angie (Joanna Page) who keeps reminding him they can’t keep up with mortgage payments if he fritters his earnings away at the turf accountants. Howard’s enthusiasm gives Jan the idea to delve into the world of horse racing herself and one night, instead of mopping the supermarket floor she stands in the aisle studying a sports mag about… yep you guessed it, horse racing! Convincing husband Brian to purchase a horse is of course another hurdle but after a hefty argument during which she accuse hubby of “having given up on life, his fighting spirit and wasting away in front of the telly” after some research a mare is bought and they name her ‘Rubelle’. As it turns out, the animal is pregnant and unfortunately dies giving birth – leaving the Vokes distraught and devastated. However! The foal grows up to be a fine horse and after Jan and Brian manage to bamboozle some neighbours and colleagues into chipping in some of their earnings, effectively referring to group as ‘The Syndicate’ they all hope the horse, now named ‘Dream Alliance’ can reach competition level. First though they need to convince no-nonsense professional horse trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell) that ‘Dream Horse’ is worth his straw, eh, salt…

Eventually winning him over, Phil’s initial scepticism proves wrong when ’Dream Alliance’ unexpectedly comes second during a race much to the delight of its owners and everyone who’d also had chipped in some of their meagre savings. Cue for silly antics in the pub with karaoke music and endless pints of lager – Howard even chucks in his hated job as a tax accountant, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife. Just as things begin to look brighter for the Vokes, disaster strikes when ‘Dream Alliance’ injures himself badly during a race – so badly in fact that the vets fear not only will the animal never enter a race track again but might have to be put down. Thanks to the sheer devotion of Jan and a team of special vets in particular the animal makes a miraculous recovery and Dream Horse gallops towards victory at the Welsh Grand National – meaning money for its proud owners and the “Syndicate”.

It’s a heart-warming and old-fashioned film which gives the impression that is was made on a shoe-string budget though that may have something to do with the singular rural settings and much location work wasn’t needed. Although a bit syrupy at times the film offers a good balance between domestic drama and the message of never giving up hope for a better life. The performances are solid all round (we even get the fifth DOCTOR WHO Peter Davison in a cameo appearance as the fictional Lord Avery, someone who should be in Ascot). Essentially though this is Toni Collette’s movie who, with very few exceptions, dominates practically every scene and delivers a more than convincing portrait of a woman adamant not to be crushed by the obstacles that life throws at her.

DREAM HORSE is released on DVD and Bonus Feature includes Interviews with cast and crew plus the real-life syndicate members.