Hard times in Britain strike, you lose your blue-collar job, and you desperately need something to fill the void.
You can either bare your body in a male-stripper revue as the boys of “The Full Monty” did or swim the English Channel as Peter Mullan does in “On a Clear Day,” a thoughtful, thoroughly engaging portrait of fractured family and friends pulling together for an impossible dream.
One of the supreme sadsacks of contemporary film who oozes melancholy from his ageless eyes, Mullan brings real gravity to what has become a somewhat formulaic British sub-genre that includes such tales as “Calendar Girls” and the upcoming “Kinky Boots.”
A sense of predictability permeates the style, the downtrodden or disheartened finding empowerment through actions others would consider outlandish. Yet Mullan and an able supporting cast led by Brenda Blethyn and Billy Boyd bring such depth and warmth to actress Gaby Dellal’s directing debut, the film has genuine freshness even though it follows the familiar wake of its predecessors.
Screenwriter Alex Rose has crafted a soulful little band of working-class Scots, imbuing the gritty story with subtle heart and humor.
“Made redundant” and cast off by the Glasgow shipyard where he was worked loyally for decades, 55-year-old Frank Redmond (Mullan) cannot stomach going on the dole or seeking job-placement assistance.
A proud, often taciturn man, Frank has a rather cool and distant relationship with his wife, Joan (Blethyn), and his estranged son Rob (Jamie Sives), who grew up feeling like the forgotten offspring amid his father’s grief over another son who drowned as a child.
In the swim
An amateur swimmer, Frank gets it in his head to train for the arduous Channel crossing, figuring the task will help restore his self-respect and recharge his sense of purpose.
On his own, Frank probably would never rally the troops to support him, but he’s goaded on by fish-and-chips shop owner Chan (Benedict Wong), an Asian immigrant struggling to carve a life among inhospitable Scotsmen distrustful of foreigners.
Chan becomes Frank’s trainer and energizes the others to help, finding acceptance and kinship himself as his new Scottish buddies discover renewed confidence and passion for life.
Frank’s undertaking becomes an infection, first testing his slender ties with Joan and Rob, then gradually bringing them to a place where they might reclaim the bonds the family has long since lost.
Dellal and her production team make great use of rough, worn Glasgow locations and the grim expanse of the Irish Sea, which substitutes for the English Channel. The severity of the scenery makes a fine contrast to what ultimately proves a sweet drama of resilience.