New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links


(2019) *** Pg
97 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Alex Holmes. Cast: Tracy Edwards.

/content/films/5169/1.jpgThe popular subgenre of documentaries that unearths tales of the recent past (the last century or so) requires two elements for breakout success: an intriguing human-interest story and a wealth of concrete visual imagery. Ideally, both the story and the photography have gone unknown to—or forgotten by—the masses, seldom or never exploited in previous media and thereby ripe for (re)discovery. Alex Holmes’ Maiden ticks both boxes in its fresh recounting of a race around the world that took on personal and feminist dimensions.

Holmes appropriately frames Maiden as a character study of Tracy Edwards, an Englishwoman who overcame long odds to achieve her dream of skippering a sailboat in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, an international competition. Through an extensive interview and home movies, Holmes lays out Edwards’ difficult yet strangely inevitable path to becoming a yachting legend: a happy youth marked by an inspiring mother, an adolescence devastatingly disrupted by abuse and acting out, and an exhilarating and frustrating young adulthood spent trying to break in and move up in an entirely male-dominated sailing world that nonetheless held her dream of freedom and self-empowerment on the waves.

After hard-won stints as a stewardess, deck-hand, and first mate, Edwards found her entrée into the Whitbread by agreeing to serve as cook to an otherwise all-male crew (even in this capacity, she met resistance from some of the men). The principal narrative kicks in when Edwards determines that the only way to get what she wants is sisters doin’ it for themselves: assembling a 12-woman crew and endeavoring to restore a salvaged yacht redubbed Maiden, the 26-year-old Edwards thrusts herself into the daunting task of funding and prepping a 1989-1990 Whitbread bid. When drafting a patronizing news media and calling upon British patriotism ultimately fail, Edwards at last secures funding by mining the goodwill of King Hussein of Jordan (an admirer after his chance meeting with Edwards)—and that was the easy part.

At 33,000 nautical miles, the Whitbread constitutes the longest race on Earth, with all the mortal dangers such a venture entails (fatigue, weather, remoteness, mechanical or human failure): not for nothing does Holmes twice includes Edwards’ assessment “The ocean’s always trying to kill you. It doesn’t take a break.” The filmmaker gathers an impressive roster of interviewees, including much of the Maiden crew and a handful of male competitors and sports journalists from the time. Supported by Super-VHS footage shot on the Maiden and vintage news clips, the talking heads tell the story while acknowledging the best and worst of their own attitudes and those of Edwards: a phenomenally dedicated but often difficult leader operating under immense strain.

Edwards, in particular, offers poetically descriptive and sometimes emotional explanations of sailing and its meaning to her, while Holmes’ construction of the available elements opens a space to consider all the facets of the story: as a somewhat unwitting feminist victory in the sporting world (a la tennis’ “Battle of the Sexes”)—in its snapshot of the time’s ugly, vocal sexism, then still free to rule mainstream culture—and several angles that intersect with but transcend, and often shame, considerations of gender: a coming-of-age tale of personal triumph, an underdog sports story, a human-against-the elements survival tale, and a drama of a team coalescing under an inspiring leader.

It’s a tricky balance, to be sure, one Holmes strikes by not getting into the weeds (or the reefs?) of anecdotes specifying sailing technique and teamwork. Though understandable, the choice sometimes contributes to a sense of airbrushing this portrait when greater detail could add texture, resulting in a story that’s uncomplicatedly accessible but arguably a touch pat. Overall, though, this Maiden voyage’s degrees of heroism and ugly behavior, of victory and defeat, illuminate a gripping and inspiring story that demands to be remembered.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links