Dark Horse plays like a documentary version of an Ealing comedy. It tells the unlikely story of a top racehorse, bred and reared on a Welsh allotment by a syndicate of co-owners paying £10 a week. These owners were from Cefn Fforest, a tight-knit mining community which suffered badly in the wake of the 1984 strike and the pit closures that followed.
The film has all the ingredients of the best sports movies: the usual interplay between triumph and disaster. What makes it distinctive, though, is its gallery of colourful characters – the bar workers, supermarket assistants, small businessmen and retirees who paid their weekly tenner to get Dream Alliance on the race course. They're indomitable types with a self-mocking sense of humour.
Perhaps director Louise Osmond plays up the owners' status as eccentric commoners trying to gatecrash the sport of kings and of the rich landed gentry a little too much.
Jan Vokes, the barmaid who instigates the scheme, is a sharp-witted figure who claims early in the film that she "knew nothing whatsoever about horse-racing" but proves remarkably focused and pragmatic in achieving her dream.
Best films to watch in 2015
Best films to watch in 2015
1/9 Suffragette - 11 September
Meryl Streep is bound to make a formidable Emmeline Pankhurst in Sarah Gavron's new film about the British women's suffragette movement of the early 20th century. Streep is again working from a screenplay by Abi Morgan who also wrote The Iron Lady.
2/9 Far From The Madding Crowd - 1 May
Thomas Vinterberg turns his hand to Thomas Hardy and British costume drama. Memories of the John Schlesinger version with Alan Bates and Julie Christie will be hard to exorcise. Carey Mulligan and the mercurial Flemish actor Matthias Schoenaerts star as Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak.
3/9 Jurassic World - 12 June
The third Jurassic Park sequel is finally here starring Chris Pratt. The storyline goes something like this - theme park gets dinosaur to attrack visitors and it all goes horribly wrong. Should prove a fun one among cinema-goers.
4/9 Terminator: Genisys - 3 July
Arnold Schwarzenegger kept his promise - he's back and he's trying to stop Judgement Day.
5/9 Spectre - 6 November
Bond is back for the 24th time. So is arch-villain Blofeld. Director Sam Mendes did a sterling job with Skyfall but the last movie ended on a very downbeat note with poor old Judi Dench signing out of the series. The challenge now is to reinvigorate a franchise that is already well into its 50s.
6/9 Cake - 20 February
It's Rachel from Friends as you've never seen her before as Jennifer Aniston plays Claire Bennett - a woman who initiates a relationship with a widower while battling hallucinations of his dead wife.
7/9 Suite Francaise - 13 March
It will be intriguing to see how Saul Dibb’s long-awaited adaptation of Irène Némirovsky’s novel deals with a problem that has often confounded British film-makers: how to portray French characters played by English-speaking actors in Nazi-occupied, wartime Paris without slipping into ’Allo ’Allo!-style caricature. Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas lead Dibb’s promising cast.
8/9 In The Heart Of The Sea - 13 March
Chris Hemsworth plays tough seafarer Owen Chase in this dramatic Moby Dick movie.
9/9 Cinderella - 27 March
Kenneth Branagh's live action remake of Disney's classic tale stars Downton Abbey's Lily James. Helena Bonham-Carter and Cate Blanchett also star as the Fairy Godmother and evil stepmother.
The tax adviser Howard Davies, another key member of the group, is likewise canny – a self-confessed horse-racing nut who turns out to have co-owned a horse before (and to have lost several thousand pounds as a result).
Osmond uses music and dramatic reconstructions of the owners watching their horse on pub TVs to hype up the tension. Also emphasised is Dream Alliance's personality, which mirrors that of his owners. He is full of stamina and endeavour, and seemingly shares their sense of mischief too.
They can't stop themselves from anthropomorphising the horse, talking about him as a "typical" Welsh boy and "part of the family", and even claiming that he used to wink at them.
Dark Horse never questions the decisions of the owners. For example, entering Dream Alliance in as gruelling a race as the Grand National straight after he has come back from a near fatal injury can't help but seem baffling to outsiders.
Nonetheless, this is a rousing real-life fairy tale made with both heart and humour.Reuse content