Even if innocently weighing up the virtues of a vegetable patch, discussing one’s ability, or indeed inability, to grow a carrot when issues are being had in the bedroom department is a thinly disguised euphemism at best.
Erectile dysfunction is not something the British male wants to talk about, plain and simple, but talk about it he must. Using Ewan Morrison’s 2007 novel of the same name as its source material, Colin Kennedy’s Swung explores the lengths to which couples will go in order to maintain a wilting relationship. For thirtysomethings David (Owen McDonnell) and Alice (Elena Anaya) that means an inadvertent dabble in the Glasgow swinging scene.
Although Swung is explicit in its nature and its content – to a lesser degree than might be expected, however – it’s neither smutty, depraved nor gratuitous and is anchored around an admirably acted and believable central pairing. Above and beyond between-the-sheets intimacy and pillow talk there exists a palpable closeness between McDonnell and Anaya that can only be achieved through two actors very much at ease.
Aside from one instance of a far from a camera-shy Glaswegian couple having some fun in their kitchen and the odd Google image search, representations of sex in Swung are handled gracefully, framed in between shadows and darkened spaces or with an artfully blurred lens; what an inability to come together physically means for the wider scheme of David and Alice’s relationship is more significant here than the act itself.
Filmed predominantly at night time in darkened interiors and featuring an Irish leading man and Spanish leading lady in a typically wet, windy and grey Scotland, the sense of place is subordinate to the rather deflated elephant in the room. A problem that could affect men of a certain age anywhere, theirs is a universal tale and one which prompts broader questions familiar to all who have suffered love’s labours: why are we trying so hard to make this relationship work if it’s just not meant to? Enlisting the help of Elizabeth McGovern’s Dolly Adams – to whom the film is dedicated – David and Alice make two-fold progress, he with start-up problems, she with preparing a magazine article for a failing lifestyle magazine.
Appearing as a kind of Mystic Meg of tantric sexual techniques there is something quite disconcerting about Lady Grantham saying, “I could just tie him up and spank him” but she does bring a frank, new-age Californian liberalism to proceedings which necessarily pushes the couple outside of their comfort zone. Shauna Macdonald is David’s battle-axe of a soon to be ex-wife who shoots glacial stares, not trusting him to take care of their daughter.
The broken home family element is well incorporated into the story and adds a grounded, day-to-day legitimacy to the otherwise unusual circumstances. It’s perhaps apt that Swung culminates with a slight anti-climax but an unforeseen turn of events results in an overly convenient resolution. Kennedy’s debut feature is nevertheless a worthy probe into the hectic and ever-changing nature of modern relationships.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens