The heartwarming story of how a South Wales community trained a Welsh Grand National-winning racehorse comes to the big screen today.

Dream Horse follows the true story of Cefn Fforest woman Jan Vokes, who was working behind a bar when she overheard a group of customers talking about owning a racehorse - a conversation that would end up changing her life.

With the help of her reluctant husband Brian and local accountant Howard Davies, she brings together a syndicate of local people to breed a foal.

They name him Dream Alliance and start raising him on an allotment – and he goes on to become a champion, beating multimillion-pound racehorses at the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow Racecourse in 2009.

The new film, from Welsh director Euros Lyn (Doctor Who, Torchwood), also includes a host of familiar faces such as Gavin and Stacey star Joanna Page.

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“It was one of the stories that was on everybody’s lips in the pubs – a story that very quickly became a local legend,” said the director. “It’s such a fairy tale.”

In the film, Jan is portrayed by Australian actress Toni Collette – famous for About A Boy, Hereditary and The Sixth Sense – while Game Of Thrones star Owen Teale takes on the role of Brian, Homeland actor Damian Lewis is Howard, and Page plays his wife Angela.

The National Wales: Director Euros Lyn on location during the filming of Dream Horse. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Bros.Director Euros Lyn on location during the filming of Dream Horse. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Bros.

Mastering the Valleys accent was a challenge for Collette, whose New South Wales roots gave her little experience.

“I wanted this story to be authentic in every aspect,” said director Lyn. “Toni is, of course, from the opposite side of the world, and the Australian accent is really, really different... so we had a fantastic dialect coach work with Toni and I think they nailed it.”

He also sent the actress a link to BBC Radio Wales, which she spent “weeks and weeks and weeks falling asleep every night to”, and recommended she watch Gavin & Stacey.

Collette also had access on set to two of the comedy’s Welsh stars in Page, who played Stacey, and Steffan Rhodri, who portrayed Dave Coaches in the show.

Lyn said the sense of community spirit was a core theme of the film.

“I saw that community lose its pride and lose its hope through the 80s and the 90s, as all the mines and the steelworks closed down, and people lost that sense of hope," he said. "And what I saw in the script, and in the story, was a woman from that place, rediscovering a sense of purpose, rediscovering hope, and taking her entire community with her. It felt so joyful and uplifting.”

The National Wales: Still from Dream Horse showing Toni Collette and Owen Teale. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Bros.Still from Dream Horse showing Toni Collette and Owen Teale. Picture: PA Photo/Warner Bros.

The real-life Jan Vokes, who now works in a local school, went twice to visit the Dream Horse set during filming, much of which took place in Blaenavon.

She said the way Dream Alliance bought Vokes and her neighbours together – there were 23 members syndicate members in all – is what was most special to her, and that feeling remains today.

“We’ve still got horses and we’ve still got them up on the allotment, and there are playing fields down below," she said.

The National Wales: Janet Vokes who bred the racehorse Dream Alliance. Picture: christinsleyphotography.co.ukJanet Vokes who bred the racehorse Dream Alliance. Picture: christinsleyphotography.co.uk

“And people from the village, they walk up with their dogs, stop, have a look at the horses and they’ll bring their carrots or whatever.

“We’ve always shared them with anyone. We’ve always been open to anyone in the village coming and having a look, and I think they appreciated that. They were part of it, they watched Dream grow up. He was part of the village.”

• Dream Horse is available to watch in cinemas from Friday, June 4.

Additional reporting by Georgia Humphreys, PA

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