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Young Woman and the Sea (Film Review)

3 min read
Daisy Ridley in Young Woman and the Sea. She is in competitive swim gear facing a dark ocean.

Image: Disney

In 1926, a woman named Trudy Ederle did something incredible. After swimming for more than 14.5 hours, she became the first woman to make it across the English Channel. Neither jellyfish, nor cold water, nor exhaustion stopped her. This internal drive pushed to beat the previous record by two hours, notably held by a man. Upon returning home, she was celebrated with the largest ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. For a brief, shining moment in the 1920's, she was a hero (or as Gen Z say, a Shero). But time marches on, and over the decades she became largely forgotten.

That is, until now. has made an excellent movie celebrating her swimming career. Originally due to be released on streaming only, it tested so well that Disney decided to release it in US and UK cinemas. The film opens with the General Slocum disaster, where more than a thousand German immigrants (mostly women and children) died when their steamship caught fire. It would be the largest manmade loss of life in New York until 9/11. Trudy () is home sick with measles and her German immigrant family spared from the disaster, but it leaves an indelible mark on her mother (Jeanette Hain). She insists her girls, Trudy and Margaret (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) learn how to swim.

Trudy's father initially doesn't agree with this. What women swim? But, as this is a family flick, he comes around in a stunning denouement. We see Trudy keep up her determination to not just swim well, but fast. Soon she's winning medals here, there and everywhere.  When the 1924 Paris Olympics come up, it's fitting that she is chosen for the team.

In Paris, she butts heads with the coach (Christopher Eccleston). Trying to maintain his young duties decorum, he refuses them the ability to train while crossing the Atlantic sea. In a place where Gold is the only currency that matters, the girls end up with disappointing Olympics results. Her coach remains a thorn in her side during her first attempt in crossing the channel, sabotaging her swim after the first few miles.

But Trudy won't be stopped. She gets Bill Burgess (Stephen Graham), a man who had swam the channel in 1911, to train her. The second time, as the history books say, is a success. Taking place over a very intense last twenty minutes of the film, we watch this incredible feat against the backdrop of an excellent soundtrack (composer Amelia Warner shines through).

Special mention must be given to both the set design and the costumes. Early 1900's Manhattan is convincingly brought to life, with tenements, signage in different languages and cobblestone streets. Coney Island (where Trudy did many of her races) is also given its just due, with funfairs, piers and Victorian pools.

But it is the costumes that really stand out. Gabriele Binder has outdone herself with the work she's put into this film. There is a stunning array of almost geometric hats. The Olympic outfits, with matching bags, are enviously chic. Even the swimming costumes worn not just by Trudy, but others are eye-catching in design.

Credit must also be given to screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, who adapted the story from the novel “Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World” written by Glenn Stout. His adaption is consistently compelling throughout its 120 minute run-time. The cinematography is clear and crisp.  With its family-friendly vibe and a very “believe in yourself” theme, it is great for kids.

Young Woman and the Sea is out now in US and UK cinemas