×
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

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Best Score Nominee Alexandre Desplat Is

    Best Score Nominee Alexandre Desplat to Skip Oscar Ceremony

    Best score nominee Alexandre Desplat will be unable to attend Sunday’s Oscar ceremonies because of recent throat surgery, a rep for the composer confirms. The French native, already a two-time Oscar winner (for 2014’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water”), is nominated this year for his Japanese-flavored score for Wes Anderson’s “Isle [...]

  • Space Jam

    'Space Jam 2' Gets Summer 2021 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has set a July 16, 2021, date for its live-action/animated sports comedy “Space Jam 2,” starring LeBron James. Terence Nance, creator of the HBO show “Random Acts of Flyness,” is directing the sequel. His credits include “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” “Swimming in Your Skin Again,” and “Univitellin.” The movie marks James’ first [...]

  • Gwendoline Christie Star Wars Episode VIII

    Film News Roundup: Gwendoline Christie Joins Jason Segel-Dakota Johnson Drama 'The Friend'

    In today’s film news roundup, Gwendoline Christie is cast in “The Friend,” film preservationist Kevin Brownlow is honored, Demi Moore’s “Corporate Animals” gets sold, and BondIt Media Capital hires a CFO. CASTINGS More Reviews Sundance Film Review: 'Sea of Shadows' Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess' “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars: The Last [...]

  • Heather Parry Live Nation

    Heather Parry Fired From Live Nation Productions

    Live Nation Entertainment announced Thursday that Heather Parry will leave the company following a Variety investigation into allegations of workplace bullying. Parry ran Live Nation Productions, the TV and film arm of the touring conglomerate, for three years. In December, Variety reported that Live Nation’s human resources department had been repeatedly warned that Parry was [...]

  • A still from Sea of Shadows

    Sundance Film Review: 'Sea of Shadows'

    It’s a decidedly grim circle of life that moves us all in “Sea of Shadows,” a tight, troubling documentary eco-thriller that charts a compelling course of consequence from Chinese black-market apothecaries to the near-extinction of a rare whale in the Sea of Cortez, hitting on Mexican crime cartels and institutional corruption along the way. Austrian [...]

  • Matt Smith, Thomasin McKenzie Circle Edgar

    Matt Smith, 'Leave No Trace' Star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie Circle Edgar Wright Movie

    Matt Smith and “Leave No Trace” star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie are in negotiations to join Edgar Wright’s next film, “Last Night in Soho,” sources tell Variety. Details are vague about the psychological horror movie, other than it being set in London’s Soho district. Anya Taylor Joy is also in the cast. Production is expected to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content