A sentimental documentary about a race horse and the little town that bred and raced him, “Dark Horse” is a feel-good movie that sneaks up on you, even if you know what’s coming.
Because it’s not just about a moody, plucky horse who beats the odds. Being British, it works in subtexts of class conflict and hope springing out of a Welsh town left for dead when its coal mines closed.
Cefn Fforest has young people in it. But filmed, in lonely snippets in its back alleys, they’re a shrinking minority. Almost everybody interviewed for this film is old enough to be missing teeth, to have a lazy eye that was never corrected.
A local barmaid and sometime dog and pigeon breeder got it into her head that she could breed a racehorse. She talked friends and locals from the pub into pitching in. They found an inexpensive, injured mare, bred her with an American stallion with a decent track record, and Dream Alliance was born.
Dream Alliance was a steeplechaser, a turf-track horse who jumps hedges and dodges the horses that often take tumbles in such races. And he was, one and all agree, “a street fighter.”
Moody, with undistinguished bloodlines and inconsistent, he’d prompt “When’s that donkey running next?” from the locals. He was “a real Welsh boy,” Janet Vokes, the barmaid-turned-breeder purrs. “You can’t always trust’em.”
But despite the dismissals of the serious horse-racing community, despite their own lower than low expectations, he started winning. And then he got hurt.
Louise Osmond’s film gets a real feel for the town and its people. And there’s a little drama here, if you’ve not heard of the horse named after pretentiously-titled Simpson-Bruckheimer (“Crimson Tide”) film production company.
But if you’ve not surrendered to its thin and predictable charms by the time the horse takes a fall, you will.
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic elements and language
Cast: Bookies, horse racing experts and the plucky people of Cefn Fforest, Wales.
Credits: Directed by Louise Osmond A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:25