MAIDEN,  UK, 2019. Featuring Tracy Edwards and the crew of Maiden. Directed by Alex Holmes. 98 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).

Women in sport has been a significant development, especially since the latter decades of the 20th century. They played tennis, other more genteel sports. But, in later years, they play cricket, the various forms of football, boxing, writing as jockeys (Australia’s Ride Like a Girl)… And, with the impact of this film and its story, vying with men in sailing around the world.

The Whitbread race, from Southhampton, through the Atlantic, across the Indian Ocean, into the Pacific, and back to Southhampton, was instituted in the 1980s. The particular race, 1989-1990, is the occasion for this story.

The telling of the story is fairly straightforward in terms of filmmaking. It moves with the narrative of preparation for the race, the gathering of the crew, the race itself and its details (with crew members filming as they sailed), the triumph and the extraordinary welcome of all the boats at Southhampton. Fortunately, the members of the crew were filmed during those years so there is plenty of stock footage to draw on. And, they are available for interview, talking heads for this film.

So, there is a feeling of authenticity in looking at the events of the past, seeing the various women in action, and then listening to them as they reflect after almost 30 years.

At the centre of the story is Tracy Edwards. The early part of this documentary traces her background, her life as a child and teenager, her friendships, the sadness of her father’s sudden death, the difficulties of relating to her stepfather and her running away. She had a spirit of adventure, even getting a job as a cook on a boat. She gave no indication that she would be the skipper of the Maiden let alone leading her team to victory.

The narrative is interesting in showing how Tracy Edwards was led to her decision to race, gathering the crew, the difficulties of getting any kind of sponsorship, male chauvinistic derision, the years spent in preparation with the boat, the final support of King Hussein of Jordan.

Again, with the range of video, we see her as an enthusiastic young woman at sea and look at her as a rather dignified older woman, more gaunt, more restrained – but still as enthusiastic as she remembers her past. And, she makes tribute to her team, giving all the background to each of them, the film showing them all in action, and, again, their reflections after almost 30 years.

Some of the talking heads are sailors of the yachts, not immediately sympathetic to the idea let alone the reality of women participating in the Whitbread. And, there are a couple of journalists, reminding us of the chauvinism as regards women in sport.

The women are engaging, and still energetic and enthusiastic, so that the audience is interested in them and in what they achieved. And, the footage at sea brings home some of the harsh realities of the challenges of the oceans.

But, we are all on side as, unexpectedly for them, they find themselves in the lead an enormous number of boats and people coming out to meet them and welcome them across the line.

Rialto                                  Released October 17th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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