Not to be confused with last month’s The Dark Horse, of course, Louise Osmond’s Dark Horse is a horse of a very different color. It’s a documentary-like account about humble members of a Welsh working men’s club, friends and neighbors, led by middle-aged barmaid Jan Vokes, who band together to buy and raise a racehorse and train it for “the sport of kings.”
The elite British horsey set snorts at them as they arrive at races. Many of them are unshaven, unshorn, dressed in shabby clothes and carry their lunches in paper bags. The thing is, the horse doesn’t know it’s low born and is a surprise winner on the racetrack.
The appeal of Dark Horse is, to borrow another animal metaphor, that it is a classic underdog story. These pub-friendly pensioners put their money where their mouths were and suddenly they were owners of a horse competing in some of the most elite races on the horse-racing calender.
Filmmaker Osmond relies on interviewed accounts, as well as films of the races, many of them harrowing steeplechases, featuring tumbling horses and riders. That the owners of the horse dubbed Dream Alliance are from the depressed former coal town Cefn Fforest in South Wales only adds to the resonance and relevance of this horse-racing David vs. Goliath tale.
The film is a clever mix of those interviews, archival footage and re-enactments. As a documentary, Dark Horse might be shaky. But it’s storytelling magic. Osmond (Richard III: The King in the Car Park) takes simple elements — spoken words, faces and voices — and spins them into storytelling, and horse racing, gold. What better way to serenade this tale than Welshman Tom Jones singing Green, Green Grass of Home?
Writer-director: Louise Osmond.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 85 minutes. Mild adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Tower Theater; in Broward: Gateway.