Film

Working-Class Racehorse Doc ‘Dark Horse’ Finds an Upstart Showing Up the Swells

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All horse movies are predicated on the idea that this horse, the one the movie’s about, is the most special horse that ever was. Louise Osmond’s crowd-pleasing doc Dark Horse at least bothers to show the work.

It’s hard to gainsay the specialness of Dream Alliance, Dark Horse‘s equine hero, a thoroughbred racer whose breeding was crowdfunded by the gang at a village pub in South Wales. Despite the snootiness of the swells who dominate U.K. steeplechases, Dream Alliance hoofs it through pricey training — her thirty backers all chip in ten pounds a week — and then shows those upper-class twits what’s what by becoming a champion.

That’s no spoiler — do you think they’d put together such a warm, lovely, engaging documentary if this “working-class horse” had been un-triumphant? Like life, though, the tale grows less certain as it goes, and Dark Horse gains in feeling and resonance once it gets past the first round of victories and racing begins to take its toll on Dream Alliance.

The villagers, excitable everyday folks, make for capital interview subjects, and the filmmakers wring poignancy from re-enactments your brain knows are a little much but your heart may thrum to anyway: Yes, it’s touching Dream Alliance’s principal backer, the barmaid Janet Vokes, had to work mornings cleaning a big-box grocery store to buy the broodmare, but the wistful, stagy footage of her dutiful Windex-ing proves distracting, marked by self-consciousness, as do scenes of the backers in that pub playing themselves cheering as their horse races on TV. Still, that’s not fatal, and this horse tale mostly moves and delights.

Dark Horse

Directed by Louise Osmond

Sony Pictures Classics

Opens May 6, Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas