Swung is a frank look at the underground swinging scene which manages to impressively avoid the trap of being cheap and prurient. It takes place in recent Glasgow, a place struggling through the financial downturn with job losses affecting both the middle-class and working-class residents. Those still at work are clinging to their jobs by their fingernails as the threat of downsizing hovers high above them.
Adapted from his own novel by Ewan Morrison, and directed by Colin Kennedy, Swung tells the tale of a couple who, while living in this precarious financial situation, are facing sexual dysfunction. David (Owen McDonnell), once the director of his own graphic design agency, is bankrupt and out of work. He split from his wife some time ago and only sporadically sees his daughter. His partner Alice (Elena Anaya) writes for a magazine which is barely staying alive, and needs story ideas that will sell. David is under pressure, and the things on his mind have coalesced into physical symptons. He is suffering from erectile dysfunction, which is causing trouble in his relationship with Alice. We first meet them in couples therapy discussing the angle of David’s erection.
It’s in this depressed atmosphere, while waiting in an interminable queue on the telephone with the Jobcentre, David idly clicks on a spam email and finds himself on a website for swingers. He is bored so signs up and creates a profile. That single decision shapes the future of his and Alice’s relationship.
In the (limited writer/director interview) extras Colin Kennedy says although the film is funny he wouldn’t describe it as a comedy, and that’s true. There is a lot of humour as the story progresses, the comedy of errors within the situation, in particular as Alice and David make their first tentative steps into the world of swinging. And there is a lot comic material in the misunderstanding, watching the naive debutantes entering a world of which they know nothing. But the film is a drama, a relationship drama not a romantic comedy. And despite the amount of flesh on screen, it’s not a sex-comedy either.
Ultimately the film is a tender look at how miscommunication hampers a relationship more than anything other factor. It is sweet and moving and the storyline takes us through the relationship up and downs without limiting us to one point of view – we have sympathy for both Alice and David. The performances are excellent, both Anyaya and McDonnell proving fine leads. Elizabeth McGovern, more familiar as the Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, makes a very different appearance as Dolly, someone who has been involved in the swinging scene for many years.
If anything the story is perhaps too simple – David’s previous relationship with his daughter and his soon to be ex-wife is fascinating, and it would be interesting to know more about how that fell apart. Alice has never met them, and there is a lot of unspoken background it would have been nice to explore.
The film is a brief but entertaining watch, which explores how sex and communication need to be combined, with some excellent acting and sensitive direction. It is warm and unusually sympathic. The beautiful cinematography by Jean-François Hensgens is also worthy of note.
Swung is out now on DVD.