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Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Charlotte Riley and the people of Swimming with Men talk body image, gender expectations and British film.


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A quirky film based on true events, Swimming with Men tells the story of a group of middle aged men who seek refuge from day-to-day monotony in their weekly synchronised swimming meets. Starring big British names like Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays and Charlotte Riley, the film directed by Oliver Parker was the one chosen to close this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The National Student got to speak to the cast and director about their experience of the film.

Rob Brydon stars as Eric Scott, the film’s protagonist. As he explains, “I’d not played a lead character in a film, so for me it was interesting to try and take the audience from the beginning through the end, to take them on an emotional journey and to pace the performance with that in mind.

“As far as the actual filming of it goes, I loved being with all the guys in the team. We had such a laugh, we had two weeks of training when we were in the pool every day, so in doing that you really bond and you really come together.”

He hopes that “audiences get from it what I get from it, which is a funny film with heart. I mean in a lot of the work I do, I try to have heart, I try to make it a warm experience, and this film is very uplifting. You want these guys to win.

“They’re this disparate group of middle-aged men with less than perfect bodies who meet up once a week to practice their routines. They say they don’t want to perform, they don’t want to do it for an audience, but then they somehow end up in the world championships, and they give it their very best. And the audience are rooting for them. So, I hope it’s a complete cinematic experience, that you laugh, you cry, and you come out wanting to jump into a pool!”

The only woman to feature in the main ensemble cast, Charlotte Riley plays the team’s coach Susan, herself a synchronised swimmer for the women’s team. As Riley describes, with her character “in the beginning, I think the audience will assume that she’s quite meek, quite mild and reserved, but when it comes to her sport, she’s really serious. She means business, and I think there’s a bit of comedy in that. It’s good fun to see the transformation.”

But of course, “it’s not about the separation of men and women, it’s about people learning from each other. And in the film you see the guys have a huge amount of respect for her because she knows a lot about the sport that they don’t, and they take her advice,” and through that advice, they reach the World Championships.

For Riley, reading the script “felt very personal right from the beginning. It’s felt quite like that for everybody involved, everybody really wanted to be making the film and it’s – it’s not a small story in a diminutive sense, it’s just about people’s feelings and personalities and problems, and I think it was such a feel-good film that I wanted to be a part of something that would make people feel good! There’s so much violence in everything we watch at the moment, and I like watching those kinds of things too, but sometimes you just want to be part of something that makes people feel good.

Swimming with Men (2018)

“It’s really important in this day and age that you go to the cinema and it’s not all superhero films, or films about terrorism. It’s really nice to go see films about humanity and people doing kind things for each other and having fun. And particularly men where – there’s pressures on them to look this way or that way and to be a father figure or amazing at their job, and this film’s about being what you want to be, both men and women. And I think both sexes will take a huge amount of warmth and fun away from the film.”

Similarly speaking about the pressures put on men, but regarding their appearance and body image, Rupert Graves explains that “I like the twist that occurred some point near the middle of the movie. It starts off slightly laughing at middle-aged men holding hands in Lycra in a pool, and you are invited to laugh at it, but then I think you end up rooting for them, and wishing them well and becoming more emotionally invested.”

Part of why the first part of the film incites laughter is because audiences are not used to seeing middle-aged men’s bodies represented so shamelessly. “I think body shaming is a horrible thing,” states Graves, “because the consequences of it are so – I mean it’s nice looking at beauty, but when it gets to the point of making people not want to live, it’s just really messed up. And this celebrates men, or humans, and it starts off laughing but it’s a warm-hearted movie. I think it can engulf you in its watery embrace, hopefully.”

Thomas Turgoose also stars as the team’s youngest member, adding further comedy as kid with his fair share of trouble with the police. “The script was totally bizarre, I’d never done a comedy before,” he explains. “I wanted to be seen as more than the kid from This is England, so I wanted to do something completely different and not be the same all the time.”

“I think people are going to walk out and they’re not going to be blown away like you would be if you’d seen Jurassic Park, or Ready Player One,” says Turgoose, “but they’re going to walk out of the cinema and they’re going to know they’ve watched a nice film.”

Daniel Mays plays Colin, another of the veteran synchronised swimmers. “I’d worked with the director before with Dad’s Army and it meant a lot to me to continue the working relationship,” he says, “I’d not worked with any of the actors involved in it, though I am a fan of Rob Brydon, I think he’s hilarious. I thought the choice of him as the lead was ingenious, and also the script! The script was really heartfelt and hopefully we’ve produced a very entertaining film to watch.

“I just hope the audience will have a lot of fun. Like, you can’t help falling in love with the characters. There’s heart and laughs as you go along, it’s that genre of thing when if you get it right, it’s absolute gold dust. One obviously thinks of Calendar Girls, The Full Monty… whenever there’s a group of men or women doing something out of the ordinary, British films tend to tell those stories really well.”

Finally, director Oliver Parker explains how he came across the story upon which the film is based. “It is rather a funny story. I heard about it not that long ago, it would have been around eighteen or twenty months ago so not that long. And I kind of just tumbled into it! I was quite close to making a really big film and it didn’t happen, and this one kind of fell into my lap and I was immediately intrigued.

“There was a lovely quality in the writing and Rob was attached, and I investigated the Swedish swimmers, because I’d heard about and seen the documentary and found it rather beautiful. And that encouraged me, but it wasn’t an immediate decision. I just thought it was quite interesting and it kind of brewed, and after a while I really began to enjoy the possibilities, and bring in a gang of collaborators to make it happen.”


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