Last Night's TV - Storyville: Sync or Swim, BBC4; Rude Britannia, BBC4; Coronation Street, ITV1

Mysteries of the deep end

The Swedes didn't make it to the football World Cup, suffering the indignity of losing home and away in qualifying games to their less-fancied neighbours, Denmark. But they have the incalculable compensation of being world champions at men's synchronised swimming, a story told in last night's quirkily delightful Storyville documentary,
Sync or Swim.

The film was made by Dylan Williams, a Welshman who had fallen in love with a Swedish woman, given up his well-paid work in the British media, and followed her to Scandinavia, a romantic impulse that had quickly yielded two children, a series of menial jobs to make ends meet, and a general sense of being a fish out of water. That, as a million herring will tell you, is a well-known condition in Sweden, but Dylan, like any resourceful fish out of water, found a swimming pool, and joined up with a bunch of other middle-aged men who were all suffering in one way or another from existential angst, and had duly decided to form a synchronised swimming team. They called themselves, in that way that foreigners have of randomly lumping together several English words in the evident belief that it sounds cool, Stockholm Art Swim Gents.

There are, of course, other, more tried-and-tested ways for a chap to address a midlife crisis... an earring, a motorbike, a tattoo, an extra-marital affair, a pair of leather trousers, a one-man tent at the Glastonbury festival. But for Dylan, the way out of the burgeoning gloom was provided by the "stork's leg", the "three little triangles" and "smack my pony", those well-known synchronised swimming moves.

Not that, at first, either he or his new friends seemed to get much joy from smacking their ponies. If anything, their very Swedish angst deepened at the essential meaninglessness of making star shapes in the water. Imagine a movie co-directed by Busby Berkeley and Ingmar Bergman and you have it, more or less. After one training session they sat in a sauna invoking football as a metaphor for life, but not in a good way, concluding that they had all embarked on the second half of life's journey, losing 1-0 at half-time. Gradually, though, it began to come together, both in the pool and out. Lars, a tortured musician, fell in love with the team coach, Jane, and she with him. Dylan got a new job, teaching film studies. Then, to their astonishment, Stockholm Art Swim Gents found that they were not the world's only male synchronised swimming team. Even more astonishing, they discovered that there was soon to be a world championship, in Milan. So off they went, representing Sweden, to take on Italy, Japan, France, the Czech Republic and the reigning champs, Holland.

Men, I should add at this juncture, do not entirely suit the sport of synchronised swimming. It hadn't occurred to me that it was a gender thing until my wife observed that you can point as elegantly as you like at the ceiling, but matted underarm hair will still render the spectacle a little unsightly. Indeed, body hair in general is not an asset in aquatic ballet, and nor are small and in some cases large male middle-aged paunches.

Nevertheless, the not-notably lithe men of Stockholm Art Swim Gents clung admirably to the belief that it was their inalienable right to hold hands underwater, never more eloquently than in an interview with a Milanese radio presenter, who rudely asserted that theirs was "a sport for homosexuals". I can't remember whether it was Lars or Jonas or Pontus who replied, witheringly: "Any sport is for homosexuals, and any sport is for heterosexuals." Bravo! And bravo, too, to Dylan Williams. All things considered, this was a nigh-on perfect documentary, even if he was calculatingly disingenuous in the way he presented the team as pretty hopeless right up until the moment they won gold.

Similarly enjoyable was Rude Britannia, the first of a three-part series exploring the growth of another kind of sport, and one at which the British excel: the slaying, by way of satire and general contempt, of sacred cows. It started in earnest in Georgian times, when first William Hogarth and later James Gillray, Henry Fielding and Alexander Pope lampooned society more rudely and sometimes more crudely than has ever been achieved by Spitting Image, Viz or even our most brilliant skewerer of contemporary vanities and hypocrisy, Chris Morris. The easiest and indeed fattest target was the dissolute Prince Regent, later George IV, but by the 1830s a golden age of satire had died with him. By the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, the British were learning to be more respectful towards society's movers and shakers, more's the pity.

Anyway, Rude Britannia continues tonight and tomorrow, and if the clever and enlightening first instalment is anything to go by, should make an ideal diversion for anyone feeling trampled by a modern-day sacred cow, the World Cup. As for another sacred cow, Coronation Street, my veneration continues unashamedly. Last night, mad Mary (Patti Clare) welcomed Gail (Helen Worth) back from the clink, where she had been languishing on a murder charge. "And when that jury came back in," recalled Mary, "and we heard those magic words, 'Not Guilty' ... I've never been happier to lose a fiver in my life." Marvellous.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power