The Swimming Channel
At first glance "On a Clear Day" seems almost stereotypical, we have a story about a man who has spent his life working in the boat building yard only to find at 55 he is being laid off and facing the harshness of life being one of the many unemployed. Indeed for a time it plays out like a typical movie as we watch Frank struggle with the thought of no work, the difficulty of the unemployment office and the loss of routine. But "On a Clear Day" is more than just a look at how Frank deals with his changing life by deciding to swim the channel; it is about how this sudden change in life forces him and those around him to get out of their own ruts. It's entertaining, at times a bit disjointed but then features the brilliant Peter Mullan who makes even the quirkiest of scenes work.
All his life Frank (Peter Mullan - Shallow Grave) has been a loyal worker at the boat yard but now at the age of 55 he has been laid off leaving him with neither a routine nor a purpose. On a jaunt across to France with his mates Frank strikes upon the idea that he is going to swim the channel, giving him a purpose in life. But at the same time those close to him also face re-evaluating their lives as they watch and support Frank in his endeavour.
So "On a Clear Day" starts in a very familiar way as we enter the life of Frank who after a lifetime of working at the boat yard faces unemployment at the age off 55. And for about the first 15 minutes or so it all feels quite typical with elements of humour as we meet Frank's oddball mates and the fact that with a life with no routine or work it hits Frank hard. Even when we get to the decision that he is going to swim the channel it still feels quite routine, almost a slightly more serious version of "The Full Monty" as we have Frank and his friends secretly training for his endeavour.
But in fairness whilst Frank's decision to swim the channel is the vehicle it is really the catalyst for drama involving everyone as the forced change in his life encourages those around him to escape their own ruts. As such we have Chan the quiet chip shop owner who finally feels confident enough to deal with the potato delivery man who drops the sacks on the floor, splitting them everywhere. There is also Danny who jokes around life but never steps up to be a man as well as Eddie who in order to maintain his rut has betrayed himself in order to keep working. There are others as well who are inspired to change thanks to Frank who he himself is inspired by a young disabled boy who swims in the pool refusing to give up when it comes to doing a length.
But there is a further layer to this because we also have relationships those of Frank and his wife Joan who is secretly trying to become a bus driver and also that of Frank and his son Rob who have a strained relationship. Without spoiling anything we learn a lot about the complexity of the relationships with an event in the past moulding the way people relate to each other and why at times things are difficult. It means that "On a Clear Day" has a lot going on but is also so simple and enjoyable to watch because we get emotion, drama and just the right amount of humour.
But the thing about "On a Clear Day" is that whilst a cast which includes Brenda Blethyn, Sean McGinley, Jamie Sives and Billy Boyd all deliver above average performances there is only one star and that is Peter Mullan. It is Mullan as Frank who grabs are attention from watching him pack up the office on his last day at the boat yard to the emotional strain of going into the unemployment office. It is Mullan who makes us feel and understand that this is more than just about a man dealing with a change in his life but also in dealing with his demons as well as creating a new life.
What this all boils down to is that "On a Clear Day" is to be honest quite typical of British movies, especially those which blend drama and comedy. But being typical isn't a concern because it is entertaining, touching and amusing and basically you won't be disappointed.