DARK HORSE – Documentary Review
By Miv Evans
The Entertainment Magazine
This is a fairy tale about a cleaning lady who wanted a race-horse, the kind people who helped her buy one, and a horse who didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be as good as all the other horses.
Jan Vokes grew up in the Welsh valleys, the daughter of a miner who bred pigeons and whippets. As well as her cleaning job, she also worked behind a bar in a working mens’ club. One night she overheard a local accountant, Howard Davies, tell a friend how much money he’d lost from owning a racehorse. Like all great visionaries, Jan ignored the facts, and decided that owning a horse was not only a good idea for her, but also for everyone else in her village. She galvanized her husband, who clearly knew better than to argue with his Boadicea, and then assured Howard that second time around would be a charm. Howard was no match for the irrepressible Jan and, the Cefn Fforest Horse Owner Syndicate was launched. When the horse finally births, Jan is given the privilege of naming him. She decides he will be called Dream Alliance.
There are clips from some of Dream’s races that are edge-of-the-seat, and it’s a pity the filmmaker didn’t show any from starting block to finishing line, which are only minutes in their entirety. However, as thrilling as they are, it’s the interviews with Jan and her cohorts that drive this unique story on its dramatic way.
Although the villagers only ever talk about their experiences with the syndicate, their stories are played out against a backdrop of the 80s economic collapse that assaulted every mining community in the country. Had Mrs. Vokes been at the union’s helm at that time, there would have been less saber rattling and more effort made to save both the coal industry and the pride of its men.
Perhaps the most poignant moment in this film is when Dream’s owners have to decide to either take the money and run, or repay their sturdy mount by showing him their gratitude for giving them the ride of their lives. The decision is an easy one for the villagers but definitely not one Big Racing would ever quite get.
There is no country more classist than the British and this is illustrated perfectly by the syndicate’s interaction with the trainer, who was given the task of bringing out the potential of their budding racer. The Brits categorize (i.e. judge) people by their accents and this is taken to a new level by the haughty trainer, who compares Dream to a working class school-boy who turned up at a fee-paying school by mistake .
Apparently, Dream was smart enough to keep his earlier life on the allotment a secret so the other horses never found out he wasn’t a toff. Phew!.
Limited release in Los Angeles and New York May 6th, 2016.
Available for sale and streaming at http://amzn.to/1TxCWE3