The teak-faced Peter Mullan is a foreman at a ship-building factory in Scotland. A magnificent ship slides down the ways and Mullan has been rendered "redundant." His buddies -- Mad Bob, Merve the Perv, and the rest -- are sympathetic but life goes on. Mullan's wife, the matronly Brenda Blethyn, tries for the third time to pass the test and get a job as a bus driver. Things look pretty bleak. But then Mullan, by now steeped in a voiceless despair, looks into the sea and has an epiphany. So he swims the English channel.
This is a low-key story for grown-ups. Nobody's head gets wrenched off. The ending is a bit much in some ways but at least nobody bursts into sobs and there is no triumphant music on the sound track. Nope. The movie is as flinty as the people inhabiting it.
There is a kind of sub-theme, something between Mullan and his son Bob. They don't get along because of some childhood contretemps. That's straightened out in the end too.
I enjoyed it. Mullan is an ordinary middle-aged guy with a bit of flab and a lot of determination. He's so proud that he keeps his plan to swim the channel even from his wife, if not from his partners in crime. I didn't understand why, except that it provides an opportunity for the introduction of some humor ("I think he's having an affair") and a little tension ("Why wouldn't you even tell me -- your own wife?") to keep the story from dragging.
Speaking of humor, there are amusing incidents and characters who are unwittingly funny. Well -- one example. To be entered officially into the Guiness book of world records, Mullan needs to be accompanied in his swim by a boat, which he is not allowed to touch. But Mullan and his pals don't HAVE a boat. But they get a tip. Mad Bob has a boat he could lend them but Mullan has to arm wrestle Bob to win the favor.
So the two men -- Mullan and Mad Bob -- strip off their jackets, clear the table in the pub, place their elbows, clasp hands, and stare at each other, waiting for the "Go" signal. Everyone expects a Herculean struggle, just like the ones they've seen in every other movie with an arm wrestling contest. Instead -- Wham! -- and Mullan instantly flattens Bob's hand. Bob cheerfully agrees to lend them his boat.
I won't go on about this except to say that the cinematography is splendid without in any way being splashy, so to speak. See it. Everybody needs to smile now and then.
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