Even if the only thing you know about horse racing is that Clare Balding took over the reigns of Channel 4 Racing at the time that that quirky-looking presenter bloke (John McCririck) departed, or that, according to The Simpsons, there is a “secret land of the jockey”, then you will know enough to enjoy this film. Because despite Dark Horse’s PR team branding it a recession-busting story of triumph against all odds, it’s actually more of a tale of passion: passion for the thing which you love to do, and that is something which all of us can relate to.
The film starts in artistic fashion: loud sounds of a horse breathing heavily accompanying very close-up shots of its face. But that quickly gives way to a jovial tone, aided by the humour of our interviewees (members of the Alliance Partnership, a working-class collective from Wales who clubbed together to fund the racehorse which they named Dream Alliance) and a light-hearted, bubbly soundtrack. It gives the documentary a slightly Gavin and Stacey-esque feel, which works well; and complemented by some slickly-produced graphics, it all serves to make the film very watchable.
Music is something which is used well throughout to mark the shift in tone as this group and the racing world realise that Dream Alliance might not be such a joke after all and then the various ebbs and flows in the story. The film is slightly let down by a couple of things however: the main being that the real-life footage which was actually available to the filmmakers of the raising of the horse and then the exploits of the Alliance Partnership themselves, appears to have been in either very short supply or was entirely no-existent – even photographs do not appear to have been taken or have not been used in the film, which is a shame.
In an artistic sense too, the film is let down by not opting to recreate the key races, or at least give the impression of doing so; we instead end up watching the races entirely from TV-footage. This is obviously down to budget-constraints, but it would have been nice to have seen some cleverly filmed recreations. And recreations of the Alliance Partnership themselves are the opposite: they’re too obviously filmic recreations, when the film would have done better to have made these feel much more authentic, giving the illusion that this was footage filmed at the time.
Regardless of these slight shortfalls however, Dark Horse is really worth a watch – even if you detest the sport of horse racing. It is enjoyable from start to finish and very touching in places. It’s also quite a staggering story, whichever way you look at it. But the thing which really gives the film its edge, is that the members of the Alliance are such characters, and they will have you laughing along with them as they recount their fascinating tale and love for the horse which gave them all so much joy during its incredible run.