Daniel Mays

Swimming With Men

11/07/18

The Full Monty has so much to answer for. Since its initial success in 1997, there have been innumerable films about groups of men banding together in order to perform in front of audiences, and the makers of Swimming With Men are clearly hoping to find similar success. Herethe chosen skill is male synchronised swimming and, while there’s definitely the germ of a good idea at the heart of this endeavour, the resulting film never really manages to make its way out of the shallow end.

Eric Scott (Rob Brydon) is an accountant, currently going through a mid-life crisis. Thoroughly bored and disgusted with his day job, he somehow convinces himself that his wife, newly elected town councillor, Heather (Jane Horrocks), is having an affair with her boss. He promptly storms out of the family home to live in a nearby hotel and spends most of his spare time at the local swimming baths, working off his feelings of discontent. It’s here that he encounters a group of disaffected men who are learning synchronised swimming routines. They include handsome leader, Luke (Rupert Graves), former youth team footballer, Colin (Daniel Mays), and dodgy delinquent, Tom (Thomas Turgoose). Eric’s abilities with mathematics apparently make him an ideal addition to the collective and, pretty soon, with the help of swimming bath attendant, Susan (Charlotte Riley), they are training to enter the Male Synchronised Swimming World Championships. (If this strikes you as an unlikely occurrence, the film makers are keen to point out that a team from Sweden – who actually have small roles in the film – did exactly that a few years ago.)

But really, Swimming With Men fails to convince on so many levels, this is the least of the problems I have with it. There’s undoubtedly a timely message here about male bonding and the need for men to find a place where they can open up and talk about their unhappiness, but this film is a missed opportunity to fully explore the idea. Instead, the lazy, underdeveloped screenplay prefers to deal with simpler issues, but even then it doesn’t get them right, throwing up too many questions for comfort. Why is Brydon’s character so deluded? We are shown very little motivation for his destructive behaviour. And what really changes by the end?

There are also some less pressing  – but nonetheless niggling – issues. Why are several really excellent character actors given very little to do but splash around in budgie smugglers? And why is there no visible change over time in the physiques of men who are supposedly training hard for a World Championship?

Ultimately though, what really defeats the film is the fact that the sport of synchronised swimming, as performed by a group of amateurs, just doesn’t look very spectacular on the big screen. I find myself in total sympathy with the bunch of kids at a birthday party who are given a performance as a special treat and watch the resulting antics in bemused silence. (No wonder one of them feels the need to liven things up by putting a turd in the pool.) Indeed, it really says something when the film’s most memorable scene has the swimming team performing a spirited routine… on dry land.

This is a potentially interesting idea that fails to stay afloat and seems destined to sink without trace.

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Limehouse Golem

11/09/17

This Ripper-esque murder mystery, adapted from the novel by Peter Ackroyd and written for the screen by Jane Goldman, has plenty of things to commend it, even if the story seems a little over-familiar. Bill Nighy (in a role originally intended for the late Alan Rickman) plays Inspector John Kildare, brought in by his superiors to investigate a series of grisly murders in the East End of London. Kildare, we quickly learn, has been passed over for promotion because he is a homosexual. The baffling nature of the crimes suggest he’s being offered as some kind of sacrificial lamb, somebody to take the inevitable hit when he fails to get a conviction.

Kildare is also drawn into the trial of former music hall star, Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), who stands accused of poisoning her husband, John (Sam Reid). The problem is that the dead man is one of the chief suspects for the Golem murders. The others are famous music hall star, Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and Karl Marx (Henry Goodman): yes, that Karl Marx! Assisted by Constable George Flood (Daniel Mays), Kildare starts his investigation – and quickly discovers that he is wandering into a very tangled web indeed…

So yes, plenty to enjoy here – superlative performances from most of the cast (especially Booth), an intriguing look at the kind of entertainment laid on in the music halls of the period (I have to say, people must have been easily pleased in those days – it’s not exactly comedy gold) and some convincing recreations of Victorian London in all its grubby glory.  And yet, something doesn’t quite gel. The story unfolds slowly and fitfully, feeling longer than it’s one hour and forty nine minute running time. It only generates a full head of steam as it moves towards the final half hour or so. Nighy is always a pleasure to watch, but I couldn’t help feeling he wasn’t really given enough to do here, required mostly to stand around and look perplexed.

It would be criminal to give away the ending, so I won’t – but suffice to say, that I thought it was one of the stronger elements of the film. Rookie director Juan Carlos Medina may not have the lightness of touch needed to make this work perfectly, but it’s nonetheless a decent effort.

Be warned, though, the visceral murder scenes are not for the squeamish.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney