In the world of sports movies the majority feature either baseball, football or basketball. Occasionally you will have a hockey movie or a random track and field theme but rare is the film that features swimming, and even more rare is open water swimming.
There is however a real hidden gem that you should all check out. On a Clear Day (not the closely titled Barbara Streisand musical) is a 2005 Scotish film starring Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn and Sean McGinley.
Mullan plays a man named Frank Redmond who loses his job as a shipbuilder along with several of his friends. This causes him to become very depressed and he begins to dwell on the drowning death years earlier of one of his sons. His wife and him are close but they both have their secrets. His remaining son is a stay at home Dad who feels a lot of guilt about his brother.
Frank has a panic attack and decides to use his time at the gym to start training to swim the English Channel. He enlists his friends to help him train and it becomes a group adventure and a chance for Frank to deal with the drowning of his son.
I was looking at the reviews and it is certified fresh on rotten tomatoes at 67% which is ok but I would give it a much higher grade. Most of the critiques is that it is sentimental. Well, as someone who has set open water goals there is something inherently a bit sentimental about the journey. It’s crossing a body of water for goodness sakes. How can that not be sentimental? If you read my blog posts after a race I talk about God and prayer and overcoming challenges in every one so it is part of the experience if you ask me.
I think for us in the open water community On a Clear Day is a huge win. First of all, they get so many of the small details right. Everything from the rules of the swim, cost of the boat, the way the food is given and getting greased up for a swim. I appreciated that and it looked like Mullan’s is really swimming and sighting as he swims.
I also loved the group feel to Frank’s project. It’s not just his victory but his entire group of friends who all gain confidence from his success. I thought all of the group felt genuine and had enough of a unique personality to feel like they could be real people not just a sports movie trope. As hopefully any SLOW member can attest the group element to open water swimming is crucial (and one of the best parts) and I thought they got that just right.
I also loved the deeper meaning of the loss of his son and how he finally was able to get some healing through being in the water. I relate to that. I had a terrible year in 2012 and there were many days when I would dive in the water and cry while I swam and something about the water brought me peace.
It also is a very realistic depiction of a marriage that has gotten a bit lazy but still has love and the complicated relationship that still often exists between adult children and their parents. All of that was just right. Brenda Blethyn is so good as his wife. She is a woman with small dreams like passing a bus driving test but in her own way it is as great a challenge as swimming the English Channel.
In many ways On a Clear Day is like the recent wonderful sports movie McFarland USA. They both take sports that are perhaps not the most movie friendly (open water swimming and cross country respectively) and use it as a canvas to talk about people, life and a community. Both are movies that are great for watching on a Sunday afternoon when you want to be inspired and feel good about the world. Nothing wrong with that!
Overall On a Clear Day is an immensely satisfying film especially for those of us that have embraced open water swimming. I guarantee you will see pieces of your own swim story in Frank’s and perhaps it will help your loved one’s understand what is so great about the sport? Even if they hated swimming it is a heartwarming story about friendship, grief, marriage, dealing with depression, forgiveness and personal victories. I highly recommend it.
It unfortunately is not available on blu-ray but currently it is on DVD on Amazon.com for only $5.91!
Overall Grade A
It is rated PG13 for some mild language and tense family scenes.