You might call this The Full Monty in Speedos, a well-choreographed British comedy of male mid-life crisis, all set in a local leisure centre.
Rob Brydon is our main man, Eric, an accountant in a depression, who fears he’s losing his wife (Jane Horrocks) to local politics – and a particularly oily councillor who visits armed with fine wines. A drunken episode sees Eric leave the family house in a huff and, holed up in a drab hotel, he finds himself at rock bottom.
Nevertheless, rather than sink, he opts to swim and while seeking exercise in the local pool, he becomes intrigued by a group of men practising synchronised swimming, quite badly. This, in fact, is the film’s central comic conceit: men? doing synchronised swimming? isn’t that just for girls?
And yes, you’re right: it’s essentially no funnier than women doing it, just a bit hairier and more splashy. I hope there are more jokes coming.
No matter. The accountant in Eric can’t help noticing that the move the guys are attempting needs one more body to make it work and quicker than you can say “nose clip”, Eric’s one of the team, joining a motley collection of available British talents including Jim Carter, Rupert Graves, Thomas Turgoose, Danny Mays and Adeel Akhtar.
They bicker and banter and do a rather disastrous booking at a children’s party yet soon enough they’re being marshalled by a comely coach (Charlotte Riley) and heading for the World Championships in Norway.
You couldn’t really make it up and indeed you don’t have to because it’s actually based on the true story of a Swedish team, who became the subject of a documentary in 2010. Which is also how the exact same story is told in a French comedy called Le Grand Bain which premiered at Cannes earlier this year.
Directed by Oliver Parker, the British version does achieve a winning balance of poignancy and humour, with Brydon particularly impressing as he demonstrates his straight acting abilities rather than his Michael Caine impressions or game show host wit.
The other characters get less room for watery manoeuvre but Graves radiates handsome charm, Carter grumps away magnificently and Mays is as lively and likeable a presence as ever. Only Turgoose, the scamp from This Is England, doesn’t quite hit the mark with his petty thief character but the general team spirit of men coming together to find a collective identity and renewed personal vigour gives the film a pleasant yet lugubrious allure.
It turns into an enjoyable, Ealing-ish escapade, buoyed by fine British performances – especially if you ever get the chance to compare it to the more slapstick-inclined French version. Swimming with Men is unlikely to inspire a new generation of amateur synchro swimmers among Britain’s beleaguered males, but it might just remind them that when it comes to underdog comedy and bulldog spirit, we can always compete with the best.