Frank (Peter Mullan, Braveheart) has been designing and building ships in a British shipyard for 36 years. Suddenly and very cruelly, Frank is let go without any pension or prospects, and is left wondering what to do. An attempt at job searching finds him virtually at the feet of his sister-in-law, so he is basically left to walk around this nameless London suburb stunned and unsure of what to do with himself. His friends Eddie (Sean McGinley, Gangs of New York), Norman (Ron Cook, Quills) and Danny Boyd (yes, that’s Pippin from the Lord of the Rings films, a.k.a. Billy Boyd) all try to help him out however they can. Frank’s wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies) is unsure about how Frank is holding up, so she decides to try out for a bus driver’s license. Frank’s son Rob (Jamies Sives, Mean Machine) is a stay at home Dad, but feels Frank has been resentful of that in some large way because Rob’s brother (and Frank’s son) died in a tragic drowning accident almost 30 years ago.
Written by first-time screenwriter Alex Rose and directed by Gaby Dellal (Football), the focus of On a Clear Day is undoubtedly Frank, the stoic patriarch who suddenly finds joy in life again with swimming. He notices a boy in the pool who is barely able to swim one length of the pool while Frank can do armloads. At the end of each length the boy rejoices. He perhaps finds these qualities in his lost son, but he is so introverted that he hardly indicates this. And it’s that that becomes the inspiration for Frank’s quest, which is to swim the English Channel.
As the movie flows though and his quest to swim the channel becomes more tangible (can you believe that there are actual rules to swimming the Channel?), Frank transforms into a quietly charismatic individual. His friends all make attempts to overcome personal fears while Frank is training for the swim. Those are subplots, as the main part of the story is that Frank is trying to keep this trip as quiet as possible, even with his family. Is Frank able to pull it off? Well, let’s just say that there are moments in the film that gently guide you to some areas and it’s no real surprise to see them coming. But by this point, you’ve become so invested in and enamored by the characters in the film that you don’t really care.
I don’t know what it is about the British lately, but they have been able to make some charming, funny small films that pack a great deal of power into them, and On a Clear Day is another one of those films. It’s humor and poignancy are affecting, and if this is a cookie cutter formula for the Brits, it definitely works.
Dolby 5.1 surround love and affection, but by and large the soundtrack is a little bit wasted, considering this is dialogue-driven. Still, the water effects sound good, and there’s some small low end fidelity when the boat gets started up and ready to go.
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen that looks OK, there aren’t too many bright colors that provide any contrast to the grey suburbian skies. Still, some of the camera shots that focus on water do pixelate a little bit, so that was annoying, but only mildly so..
Nada, as in not a thing.
On a Clear Day is the type of movie that is charming, funny and emotionally affecting, and it all makes for a pleasant film, the type of film that leaves you smiling at the end of it. A definite rental, even for the coldest of hearts.