out of Five
Running time: 99
On A Clear Day is the latest in a long line of British dramas that bear more than a passing resemblance to The Full Monty. Placed on a sliding scale, it’s better than Calendar Girls and Lucky Break, but not as good as Brassed Off, Billy Elliott, or, for that matter, the upcoming Kinky Boots.
Peter Mullan plays Frank, a 55 year old Glaswegian who has just been made redundant due to the closure of the ship-yard he works at. Never the cheeriest of souls to begin with, Frank is still traumatised by the death of his son several years ago. This has strained his relationships with both his wife (Brenda
Blethyn) and his surviving son (Jamie Sives, from Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself), who now has children of his own. The only thing that puts a smile on Frank’s face is going swimming with his friends (Billy Boyd, Sean McGinley, Ron Cook), so he decides to swim the English Channel, in order to get some dignity and meaning back into his life.
The film is extremely well cast – Peter Mullan probably has “Grumpy bastards a speciality” emblazoned at the top of his CV and he’s on top form here as Frank. The Mullan Effect comes into its own when the emotional climax finally kicks in, because you spend the whole film waiting for the release and you really feel like you’ve earned it when it arrives.
The supporting cast are equally good. Brenda Blethyn plays down her tendency towards caricature for once and her performance is quietly moving. Shaun Dingwall (Rose’s dad in Doctor Who) provides a memorable cameo as the Channel Swimming official observer. Billy Boyd provides welcome comic relief and gets most of the laughs as Danny, but there’s also strong work from Ron Cook, Jamie Sives and Benedict Wong (from Dirty Pretty Things) as Chan.
Unfortunately, it’s slightly unbelievable that Frank never told his friends of his friendship with Chan, particularly as it’s presumably not the first time they’ve been to his chip shop together. This is an irritating example of plausibility being sacrificed for the sake of a pretty lousy gag.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer David Johnson, who gives the entire film a believably overcast, slightly depressing quality. It’s also, for the most part, impressively directed by Gaby Dellal, although there’s a little too much emphasis on dodgy flashback for my liking.
In short, On A Clear Day is a rare example of a film that’s both downbeat and uplifting at the same time. It’s worth seeing for the performances but it won’t be doing any Monty-style storming of the box office.