This Angel Delight of a documentary acknowledges the therapeutic and addictive qualities of wild swimming. A pastime that attracts the young and old. All shapes and all sizes, rich and not so well off (financially) and from all walks of life. But once in the water all pretty much on the same level. Mad as hatters but better for the experience and the regular adrenaline shot. Endorphin overload.
Shot at the three open air swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath in North London (male only, female only and mixed) , it follows the swimmers through all four seasons. From the warmth of summer through to the chill of winter when the water plunges below three degrees centigrade and ice forms on the top.
There are Christmas Day plunges, relaxed races on New Year’s Day, through to the throbbing masses that invade the ponds during the height of summer. Occasionally, there is time for a spot of champagne in acknowledgement of another year’s swimming.
It’s all rather gentle. But rather heart warming as some of the diehard swimmers (devoid of wet suits) reveal the part (and occasionally part of their bodies normally only seen by loved ones) that the Heath’s waters have played – and continue to play – in their lives.
Recovery from cancer, life changing operations, awful (near fatal) accidents and relationship breakups. Friendships made and sustained through all seasons and for ever. Lives rebooted and elongated. One 87 year old plunges into the cold water as if he is a salmon. The men jump off their diving board (the women, much to their frustration, don’t have one in their pool) as if they are Tom Daley.
A joie de vivre is the documentary’s strong undercurrent. The water shapes the swimmers’ lives and structures their days. It clears the mind and puts all life’s tribulations and difficulties into perspective.
With some stunning drone footage of the ponds and archive film of Hampstead Heath swimmers long since departed, The Ponds gets you searching for your swimming gear (swimming gloves and boots are allowed).
Beautifully directed by Patrick McLennan and Samuel Smith, The Ponds is an unexpected triumph. Worth plunging into.