Dark Horse (UK 2014)

DARKHORSE_release_only

This is a feature-length documentary due for release by Picturehouse in April this year. The film is about actual events in the horse-racing world between 2008 and 2011, hence the release close to the date for the Grand National. The presenter suggested that this would be a ‘feel-good’ release offering a tale of ‘making good’. The plot follows a small group in a Welsh mining village who raise and train and thoroughbred race horse. The form of the film involves cutting between interviews with actual participants and either actual footage or recreations that present the story of events. I could see that the film has that ‘feel good’ factor and it has a central character of a horse: surely a winner with the British public. I was interested in how the film constantly offered contrasts between the working class Welsh villagers and the world of racing, very much dominated by the aristocracy and land-owning faction of the bourgeoisie. However, there was a lack of a political edge to this. There is at one point some stills and found footage from the miners’ strike of 1984: and it is clear that the village has suffered economic deprivation since that event. But this does not really feed into the stony or characters, [Brassed Off (1996) or . . . do a better job of this aspect]: this is very much about ‘making good’ from the other side of the tracks. I also found the style of the film rather repetitious: for most of its length the film cuts between the filmed interviews and ‘found footage’, usually of relatively short length. The lack of variation in rhythm does not help developments. There is at some point also a problem with visual or aural quality, as the film uses material from a variety of formats. I was puzzled why the feature itself is presented in 2.39.1. This leads to the cropping or stretching of much of the ‘found footage’ and also often emphases the inferior quality of some of this material. There are also quite a few really conventional, if not stereotypical moments, as when we hear Tom Jones’ ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’ over a long shot of the Welsh landscape.

The story and the interviewees are attractive and that may help the film on release. But I felt that there as an opportunity missed. This did rather look like a lot of TV documentaries rather than having a real cinematic feel. In fact, the director and writer Louise Ormond, has mainly worked on television and in documentaries.

The film is in colour and runs 85 minutes. Not to be confused with The Dark Horse (New Zealand, 2014).

Official trailer:

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