Swimming with Men

 

starstarstarstar

 


Lightweight but pleasing, this is Oliver Parker’s best film to date.

 
Swimming with Men
  

My star rating is probably rather generous but that is fitting because Swimming with Men encourages that kind of response. It does so because it is something that has become rare in modern cinema: a comedy that is truly good-hearted. The writer here, Aschlin Ditta, discovered that in Sweden a group of men keen on synchronised swimming had created a successful sports team, the Stockholm Art Swim Gents. These very people now make a brief appearance in the unofficial championship contest which provides the climax to the fictional story devised by Ditta about a comparable British team.

 

Although Ditta may have been encouraged in this venture by sensing that his story was not without echoes of that huge hit movie The Full Monty (1997), it is better to consider Swimming with Men from other angles. First, it is a vehicle for Rob Brydon who takes the central role, that of Eric, an accountant disillusioned with his work and undergoing a mid-life crisis. Brydon fits the role well although Eric's unjustified obsession with the possibility that his wife (Jane Horrocks) is having an affair really needs more conviction than Ditta supplies. In the event Eric unexpectedly finds companionship by joining a group of local swimmers, seven in number, who range in age from Jim Carter’s widower to Thomas Turgoose’s somewhat delinquent youngster. This situation doesn’t have the underpinning that The Full Monty found by reflecting the social impact of unemployment, but it does present the synchronised swimmers as people turning to this shared sporting activity to compensate for a sense of meaninglessness in their largely middle-aged lives.

 

It follows from this that these men, convincingly taken in hand by a female coach (Charlotte Riley), are never mocked for laughs. Indeed two other aspects come into play because of that: Swimming with Men is a celebration of team spirit as found in a number of sports and, when our team are invited to participate in the championship taking place abroad, the film takes on the familiar shape of tales of competitive events which, whether told in documentary or fictional movies, invite us to follow the fortunes of particular competitors and to root for them.

 

Admittedly, this is a rather slight film but its director, Oliver Parker, delivers visual flourishes new to his work that help to keep it lively. Nevertheless - and despite a final scene that takes things to extremes - Swimming with Men pleases. It is helped by its very able cast (including Rupert Graves, Daniel Mays and Adeel Akhtar as well as those mentioned above). Even so, its strongest appeal lies in its restraint and the warmth that flows from that. To its great advantage it totally rejects crude humour unless one puts an isolated joke involving a turd in the pool in that category and, even more importantly, it avoids patronising its characters.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Rob Brydon, Adeel Akhtar, Jim Carter, Rupert Graves, Daniel Mays, Charlotte Riley, Thomas Turgoose, Jane Horrocks, Nathaniel Parker, Christian Rubeck, Robert Daws.

 

Dir Oliver Parker, Pro Stewart le Maréchal, Anna Mohr-Pietsch and Maggie Monteith, Screenplay Aschlin Ditta, Ph David Raedeker, Pro Des Amanda McArthur, Ed Liana Del Giudice, Music Charlie Mole, Costumes Jo Thompson.

  
Met Film Production/Dignity Film Finance/Kerris Films/HanWay/Umedia/Shoebox Films/Amp Film-Vertigo Films.
97 mins. UK/Sweden/Belgium. 2018. Rel: 6 July 2018. Cert. 12A.