×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Maiden’

An all-women crew’s entry in a fabled around-the-world yacht race gets a lively retelling in this exciting, inspiring documentary.

Director:
Alex Holmes
With:
Tracy Edwards, Sally Creaser, Angela Farrell, Jo Gooding, Nancy Hill, Jeni Mundy, Michelle Paret, Claire Russell, Dawn Riley, Tanja Visser, Mikaela von Koskull, Mandi Swan, Marie-Claude Heys.

1 hour 33 minutes

Shattering a glass ceiling has rarely been more engrossing — or grueling — than it is in “Maiden,” named after the ship that was the first crewed by an all-female team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. Condescendingly little was expected of the “girls” who dared to crash this particular boys’ club nearly three decades ago, but their respectable showing during the intense nine-month race changed the sport’s hitherto extreme gender bias for good. Alex Holmes’ documentary has more than enough human interest to grip viewers with no prior interest in sailing. Its potential as a non-fiction commercial breakout got Sony Pictures Classics’ attention at the Toronto festival, with their theatrical release (and doubtless awards campaigning) plans as yet TBA.

The main protagonist here is Tracy Edwards, the Maiden’s English skipper and the driving force behind its fabled run. Her path to sailing was unorthodox: A problem child after her father’s death, she ran away from home as a teen and landed in a seaside town where she eventually talked her way into jobs on yachts.

Holmes might’ve spent at least a little time detailing how Edwards accumulated the sailing experience that allowed her to even consider entering a major race. As is, the film suggests by omission that she practically went from cook to captain in one fell swoop. But understandably, the director is in a hurry to get to the Maiden, whose saga is full of drama. In the mid-’80s, Edwards decided the Whitbread contest would only begin to lose its participatory imbalance (less than 3% of crew at the time were women) with the involvement of a high-profile, first-ever all-female ship. She set that plan into motion three years ahead of the 1989-’90 event, drafting a multinational crew and overseeing their DIY refurbishment of a beat-up old vessel to approved specifications.

Even then, the Whitbread (which since 2005 has been redubbed the Volvo Ocean Race) was a hugely expensive undertaking. Sponsors proved resistant — none wanted association with what was expected to be a pathetic or tragic distaff showing. In desperation, Edwards finally begged assistance from King Hussein of Jordan, whom she’d befriended while a lowly deckhand some years before. With funding in place, the Maiden could actually commit to racing.

Nevertheless, the press persisted in treating the team as a novelty at best, and ludicrous stunt at worst. The seriousness with which other crews were interviewed about their technical factors and challenges was entirely absent from coverage dwelling on the “ladies’” looks, emotions, and assumed in-fighting. (In fact, Edwards did have a power struggle with her most highly qualified personnel, Marie-Claude Heys, resulting in the latter’s early departure.) Few expected them even to finish the first of six trip legs. But they did — then they placed first within their class for the next two, which included the particularly arduous and dangerous stretch from Uruguay to Australia. Under brutal conditions that included temperatures down to -20°, that passage cost another boat one crew member’s life.

While our protagonists suffered enough setbacks later in the 33,000-mile voyage to disappoint themselves with their finishing status, they were surprised to be greeted at the terminus as conquering heroines. Their effort had ceased being popularly trivialized months before, earned grudging respect from the sport’s establishment, and was now treated as a triumph for women in general.

There’s a great deal of archival footage, both of the you-are-there and in-port sports-network type, that makes this journey’s perils quite visceral for the viewer. The Maiden’s gobs are all still around to comment on the experience decades later, as are various journalists and experts (some of whom still reek a bit of sexist ‘tude). But it’s the plentiful on-board material, excitingly structured and paced by doc veteran Holmes with editor Katie Bryer, that lends “Maiden” great immediacy, suspense, and rooting value. Other assembly elements are straightforwardly pro.

Film Review: 'Maiden'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 12, 2018. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.K.) A Sony Pictures Classics release (U.S.) of a Dogwoof presentation of a New Black Films production. (Int'l sales: Dogwoof, London.) Producers: Victoria Gregory, Alex Holmes. Executive producers: James Erskine, Oil Harbottle, Anna Godas.

Crew: Director, writer: Alex Holmes. Camera (color, HD): Chris Openshaw. Editor: Katie Bryer. Music: Rob Manning, Samuel Sim.

With: Tracy Edwards, Sally Creaser, Angela Farrell, Jo Gooding, Nancy Hill, Jeni Mundy, Michelle Paret, Claire Russell, Dawn Riley, Tanja Visser, Mikaela von Koskull, Mandi Swan, Marie-Claude Heys.

More Film

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

  • Critics Week

    Cannes Critics’ Week Unveils Its Lineup

    Lorcan Finnegan’s science-fiction thriller “Vivarium” with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Jérémy Clapin’s fantasy-filled animated feature “I Lost My Body,” and Hlynur Pálmason’s Icelandic drama “A White, White Day” are among the 11 films set to compete at Critics’ Week, the section dedicated to first and second films that runs parallel with the Cannes Film [...]

  • China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails

    China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails to Impress While 'P Storm' Rages On

    Even on one of the quietest weekends of the year, new U.S. animated release “Wonder Park” failed to inspire Chinese audiences as much as Hong Kong and Indian movies already in their third weekend in theaters. Starring the voice talents of Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis, and Ken Jeong, among many others, the film [...]

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content