Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance (4 stars)

Dark Horse

Louise Osmond tells the inspiring story behind a champion racehorse

Animal films are usually weepies and stories of racehorses even more so, especially as their endings are typically problematic. So the cheery documentary Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance is a welcome addition to this tear-smeared genre. Not to be confused with the recent New Zealand narrative feature of the same name, this Dark Horse is a homegrown crowd-pleaser that took the Audience Award in the World Cinema – Documentary category at Sundance 2015.

How Jan Vokes, a barmaid / whippet-breeder living in an ex-mining village in South Wales, produced a champion racehorse in her back garden will please those who know (or care) nothing about horses, as well as thoroughbred experts. Bred from a £1000 mare (haggled down to £350) the resulting hurdler, Dream Alliance, proves recent research that expensive racehorses are not necessarily the best. Diet, training and care count – and that is exactly what the Alliance Partnership, a co-op of locals organised by Vokes provides via their £10 weekly subscription. A testimony to determination, the impossible happens again and again, with the horse's success credited to Vokes simply ‘setting her mind to it’.

Emmy award-winning writer-director Louise Osmond avoids all stereotypes and predictability. She's so skilled at keeping the storyline taut and engaging that even a foal scampering on a depressing Welsh allotment is more exciting than some of the scenes in Seabiscuit. We feel what the community feels: when the horse wins £500, the impact is like a lottery win. Considering how to use his accumulating purse, one member quips of the horse, 'Well, he won the money – it’s HIS money!' More stirring than National Velvet, less sentimental than Champions, Dark Horse never contrives to make us cry. And, like a well-told tale at the pub, it grips from start to finish.

Selected release from Fri 17 Apr.

Dark Horse

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • UK
  • 1h 25min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Louise Osmond
  • UK release: 17 April 2015

Cheery documentary about Dream Alliance, the racehorse bred in a South Wales back garden by barmaid and whippet breeder Jan Vokes, with the support of a co-operative of locals. Writer-director Osmond avoids predictability, keeping the story taut and engaging. Stirring, unsentimental and gripping.