Dream Horse: the true story of a Welsh village that bred a racehorse

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Dream Horse: the true story of a Welsh village that bred a racehorse


EDid you feel moved by a warm feeling of connection to the world around you? Well, the Welsh have a word for that precious sensation: “hwyl”, which sounds a bit like “hoyle” to an English ear. And, as the movie projectors kick back on, there is one movie ahead of all the others that aims to bring that very emotion to you.

Released on June 4, Dream horse is the true story of the extraordinary racehorse who brought together a group of impoverished Welsh owners and gave them new hope against all odds. And the concept of hwyl, a sort of mystical combination of those two more famous buzzwords, Irish “craic” and Danish “hygge”, is at the heart of the film, according to director Euros Lyn.

“Its meaning is described in the movie, but actually there are a lot of uses. If you speak Welsh you ask people in the morning how hwyl is. Or you use it if someone is clearly having a few drinks at the bar. It is a kind of “vital force”, and the characters of Dream horse are certainly in this kind of adventure. So that’s the right word and that’s also what we want for our audience. “

Starring Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Joanna Page and Owen Teale, the film tells the story of an inexperienced union in the South Wales valleys that funds the formation of a thoroughbred, Dream Alliance, which beats the best on the course.

Owen Teale and Toni Collette with the real Jan and Brian Vokes. Photographie : Kerry Brown

Twenty years ago, in the former mining village of Cefn Fforest, Jan Vokes was looking for a reason to get up in the morning that might prove more convincing than one of his jobs at the supermarket or behind the bar at the workers’ club. premises, and ideally also more satisfying than cooking dinner every night for her unemployed husband, Brian. She had bred rabbits, whippets and carrier pigeons before and now she had liked something more substantial. After going through the racehorse breeding logs, Vokes bought a mare, putting her in a shed on a lot. Then, with his pension fund and the support of 23 neighbors and friends who all put in some money, a promising foal was born, following an expensive visit to a stud farm.

Australian actress Collette, best known for Muriel’s wedding, The sixth sense and Little Miss Sun, plays Vokes. “It’s a funny thing to see someone like you on screen,” Vokes said over the weekend, after a special screening in his hometown. “It was weird, but I never imagined they would get everything so good, even the accents. I really enjoyed it, and now I want young people to see it in particular; to show them that you can follow a dream. Young people, as well as working class people, went through a very difficult time last year. They are the ones who suffered the most.

Behind the camera, Lyn, a Welshwoman, refrained from painting a postcard image of the valleys and, although there are some spectacular racing scenes, the town, ordinary houses and meeting rooms are faithfully rendered. as shabby and gloomy.

“A lot of the valleys are really ugly-beautiful. You have the great drama of the hills around you, and then in front of you is a line of pylons with a pile of slag from an old landfill in front, ”he said.

His premium on authenticity meant getting the right wallpaper and even posing his actors to match the photographs on display in the real Vokes house. And the crucial racing scenes had to convince.

Damian Lewis and Joanna Page with the real Angela and Howard Davies. Photographie : Kerry Brown

“We split each race into two furlong sections and had three sets of 10 thoroughbreds,” said Lyn, who was determined to avoid the feeling of jockeys holding a horse from a win.

“It’s about filming different pieces and then making them converge during the editing, and when the sound is added afterwards.

The story of Dream Alliance had already been told in an award-winning documentary, Black Horse, but writer Neil McKay “went back to first base,” Lyn said. “Neil did a deep dive and spent a lot of time with the real people involved. They’ve all had such varied lives, including Howard Davies, the accountant Damian plays, we knew we had to put some of that aside.

Lewis, who lost his wife, famous actress Helen McCrory, to cancer earlier this year, is half Welsh and wanted to work closer to home after starring in the flashy American hedge fund drama, Billion, for Ciel. “It was perfect timing,” the actor said. “I love his almost naive warmth and generosity of spirit, compared to Billion world, which is all about transactional favors exchanges.

“It was wonderful to have Damian as Howard,” Lyn said. “His father is Welsh and he has a brilliant ear anyway.”

The performance that Collette gives as Vokes can also surprise the public. “Jan has real strength and determination, but also a vulnerability, and I immediately thought of Toni,” said Lyn. “My friend, writer Jack Thorne, asked him to read the script, which is often the most difficult with a big star because there are so many goalies. Lyn knew that Collette had played many different nationalities before and luckily she loved McKay’s script.

Toni Collette in a scene with the film's Dream Alliance.
Toni Collette in a scene with the film’s Dream Alliance. Photograph: Albu / Alamy

On the set, the Welsh actor and Game of thrones Star Teale, who plays Brian Vokes, was there to boost her confidence. “Toni got off the plane and walked right into this part of Welsh culture. I had worked with her before and knew she was intense and focused. She worked with a brilliant vocal coach for some technical aspects, but she learned quickly and I quickly believed in her as my wife, this fighter who has to tackle not only the world of horse racing prejudices, but also to the chauvinism of its own past. . ”

Like Lyn, Teale thinks the word “hwyl” sums up the vibe of the movie. “It’s a wonderful Welsh idea, like ‘fellowship’, but deeper than that. We use it when we sing together in Wales, in a choir, rugby or in the pub. When we showed the film at the Sundance Film Festival last year, everyone at the theater stood up and applauded the horse. It was hwyl, but the idea has yet to hit popular culture. Some may know the Welsh word “hiraeth”, often translated as homesickness. It’s more than that, however. It’s for when you feel out of place and so uncomfortable that a wedge opens up between you and the rest of the world. Hwyl is the opposite.

The antidote to last year’s dislocations, the film should inspire people to seek a purpose, Lyn hopes. “It is certainly not about fame and fortune. It’s at around this point that we can all get to where you wonder what your life really means. It often comes with a change in circumstances that brings things to the fore. The pandemic did that. “

For the director, the gentle and welcoming spirit typical of the valleys is present in the real Brian, but also in the performance of Teale. “When I first met Brian,” Teale said over the weekend, “he broke down in tears because they had just lost a new colt to arson. There was a sweetness in him that moved me. He had to get used to the fact that he is not the same big and powerful man he was in his youth.

Today the Vokes live in the same house in Cefn Fforest and Jan still has two jobs. The Dream Alliance victories brought in just £ 1,430 apiece for union members, but it was never about money. A new foal, Phoenix Dream, now carries Jan’s hopes. “We called her that because she looks like Dream Alliance, even though she is unrelated,” she said. “She has three white feet, where Dream had four. I don’t know if people here have high expectations, but they never did with Dream!

It seems possible that “feelgood”, as in “feelgood movie”, will soon be spelled “hwyl”.

Dream Horse is in theaters from the 4 June

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