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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Euros Lyn
scr Neil McKay
prd Katherine Butler, Tracy O'Riordan
with Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Joanna Page, Nicholas Farrell, Peter Davison, Sian Phillips, Karl Johnson, Di Botcher, Darren Evans, Alex Jordan, Max Hutchinson
release US Jan.20 sff,
20/UK Warner 1h42
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
With its heartwarming true story about an underdog, this movie is a solid British crowd pleaser. Beautifully shot and packed with snappy, well-played characters, it's a warm and engaging tale that will appeal to anyone who has struggled to hold on to a dream. So even if it's been assembled in a way that's both formulaic and rather sentimental, it keeps us smiling and leaves the spirit soaring.
In a small village in Wales, Jan (Collette) works two jobs to support her unemployed husband Brian (Teale). Then she gets the idea to raise a thoroughbred race-horse, forming a syndicate with a ragtag group of neighbours including tax advisor Howard (Lewis), town drunk Kirby (Johnson) and chocolate-loving Maureen (Phillips). Named Dream Alliance, the colt is raised on Jan and Brian's allotment, then when he shows promise he's boarded with top trainer Hobbs (Farrell). And he begins to win races against the odds. Then a severe injury forces the syndicate to make some tough decisions.
The film has a comical tone, with lovably messy characters, while Jan and Howard anchor the story with their marital dynamics and respective daddy issues. All of which assures the audience that this isn't going to be a tearjerker, even if there's real tension as Dream's future is threatened. Thankfully, nothing is overplayed, and director Lyn maintains an earthy approach that never makes the comedy too funny, the tension too unbearable or the emotions too wrenching.
Everyone in the cast matches this matter-of-fact approach, with Collette holding things together in a committed performance as a woman who's finally getting a chance to express her own passion. Lewis also creates a likeable character, a man who has been badly shaken and is afraid to risk his family again. None of their dilemmas are particularly earth-shattering, but they feel authentic. Especially when surrounded by a cast of amusing scene-stealers, plus up-for-it cameos from Katherine Jenkins and Claire Balding.
The film looks terrific, maintaining a realistic visual style that heightens the raw beauty of the settings and the horses, as well as the genuine grittiness of a small town in the grip of an economic slump. In other words, everything about this film is easy to slide into, and the emotions sneak up on the audience, providing some dark thoughtfulness along with the exhilarating triumphs. Perhaps the filmmakers could have pushed a bit harder, but they remind us that sometimes a small victory is just as satisfying as a huge one.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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