Swimming With Men review: Isn’t as funny as we want it to be

Dir Oliver Parker, 97 mins, starring: Rob Brydon, Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Nathaniel Parker, Thomas Turgoose, Jane Horrocks

We’ve had films about male strippers and young female chess players; about participants in maths, spelling and even jigsaw competitions. Now comes the first British feature set in the esoteric, pinched nose world of synchronised swimming. Of course, the water gymnastics aren’t really the point.

This is yet another of those feel-good fables in which characters at the end of their tethers find redemption through an unlikely sport or hobby. It isn’t as funny as we want it to be but Swimming With Men does eventually deliver the rousing finale that we always know it will.

Rob Brydon plays Eric, a Reggie Perrin-like middle-aged accountant having an existential crisis about the metaphysical meaninglessness of existence. He’s sick of his job, sick of his commute, and convinced that his wife (Jane Horrocks), a budding local councillor, is having an affair with her very smarmy boss.

Eric moves out, drinks himself silly and, in somewhat random circumstances, is recruited by a synchronised swimming team he meets in his local pool. The other seven members are just as lost as he is – men of different ages and social backgrounds coping with bereavement, divorce or the unwelcome attentions of the police by escaping into the pool.

They include the gruff and dolorous Jim Carter (who underplays very nicely), Daniel Mays as a builder who flunked his chance to be a footballer, Adeel Akhtar as the secretive Kurt, and Thomas Turgoose as lovable young delinquent, Tom.

Parts of the plot are a little leaky. It is very convenient, for example, that the swimming pool always happens to be empty whenever the team wants to practice. Charlotte Riley’s character, the young swimming instructor who just happens to be in a relationship with a Swedish synchro swimmer and who also just happens to have 96 hours a week spare to coach the team, doesn’t seem very plausible either.

Brydon gives a likeable and engagingly deadpan performance but one that belongs to a darker film than Swimming With Men turns out to be. He captures Eric’s anxiety, paranoia and fear as he has a mid-life breakdown but doesn’t get much chance to show off his powers of mimicry.

The team’s trip to Italy for the world championships provides some of the best moments – but the scenes of the swimmers back home on a grey day outside the town hall in their trunks, protesting against library cuts, ensures the film ends on a very clammy note.

Swimming With Men hits UK cinemas 6 July.