Dark Horse (2015)
Director|Writer: Louise Ormond
85min Documentary Drama UK
Director Louise Osmond is well-known for her topical documentaries that explore extraordinary events in history. She made Deep Water about the disastrous 1968 round-the-world yacht race and more recently Richard III: The King in the Car Park that examined events surrounding the discovery of the last Plantagenet King of England. Her latest film, DARK HORSE, won the Audience Award at Sundance this year. A ‘rags to riches’ documentary, it shows how a simple horse brought excitement and focus to a forgotten mining community deep in the Welsh Valleys, thanks to one woman.
It was all down to Jan Vokes, a kindly cleaning lady from Cefn Fforest. According to husband ‘Daisy’, if she put her mind to something she usually achieved it. Jan had lived an ‘insignificant’ life since childhood. Her hobby is breeding: after several children, she turned to dogs and budgies, very much following in the footsteps of her father, who was also keen on animals. In 200o, she got talking to local accountant and racing enthusiast, Howard Davies, and together they hatched a hair-brained scheme to breed a racehorse.
Naturally, money was key to the success of the plan and it was also in short supply in this former mining town. In order to achieve a positive outcome good breeding stock would be required and training fees of around £15,000 a year. Jan took on an extra shift at Asda and with her large circle of friends from the local pub, they clubbed together to raise finance in the form of shares for the proposed scheme to the tune of £10 a week..
Osmond’s tells the story through talking-head interviews with the villagers and trainers, illustrative photos from paintings and evocative images of the local countryside. A decision was taken to name the foal, born from a racing stallion, ‘Dream Alliance’, reflecting the hopes and aspirations of these close-knit Welsh neighbours. Dream Alliance grows up to be self-willed and competitive although not the fastest steed in the upmarket stable of where he underwent vigorous training. But the animal ignites a sense of genuine pride and positiveness that palpably generates a ‘feelgood’ factor all round. The owners embark on a busman’s holiday to each and every race track, cheering Dream Alliance to the finishing line. Like many animals lovers, Jan also claims that she has a secret bond with Dream, who gradually goes on to be the winner that they’d always hoped for, although disaster lies ahead on the surprising but entirely realistic path of fate.
Apart from the feel-good score, what makes the film so joyful is the sheer love for this horse, which transcends the villagers, relaying its heartfelt to everyone. Apart from a story of hope, DARK HORSE, delivers a message that everyone can succeed in their dream if they put their best foot forward and their mind to it. It is also story of female empowerment: of how Jan always felt she was living through the men in her family until the day that Dream Alliance came into her life. DARK HORSE is a hands down winner that makes us care about a bunch of genuinely people who face up to life with humour and decency and a horse that triumphed against all odds. MT
Jan Volkes is breeding a new horse with a better pedigree than Dream and due to be born at the end of April 2015
From 16th April at cinemas nationwide and Bertha DocHouse / £9 (£7 concessions)