‘Maiden’ film review, in partnership with Brighton Duke Of York’s Picturehouse

Some women on a boat; the cynic that I am saw very little appeal in Alex Holmes documentary, Maiden, opening in cinemas this week. From the trailer, which had me thinking of trawling rather than triumph, it seemed to be melodramatic, predictable and worst of all, kind of sporty. The genre I tend to avoid, any documentaries I had seen featuring sports personalities had usually ended in convictions. Yet, with these doubts, I enjoyed it.

It’s been thirty years since Tracy Edwards took her all-women crew out on their restored yacht, The Maiden, to compete in the male-dominated Whitbread Round the World Race. Starting out her years at sea as a cook, as the only female crew-member, Edwards vowed that she would not sail the world below deck again but helm a voyage of her own. So she formed a team of twelve women, and proved the world and herself what they were capable of. A story keenly relevant today, together, the women struggle across stormy seas and hardships whilst standing up to the misogyny of their competitors and spectators.

Amazingly, the archive for this film is vast. Much was chronicled at the time and in the early, and often volatile, life of Edwards and this gives much of the shape to her story. Beautiful moments of melancholy can be felt so deeply. Shots of Edwards, pensive and unaware of the camera, capture her vulnerability in moments of stress and celebration. Her switch from self-doubt to smiles as the leering eyes of the world are on her, one cannot even begin to imagine the weight that rested on her shoulders. It makes for an endearing presence.

The interviews feel personal. They have let us in to their world. The crew, a brilliant shambolic collection of individuals each bursts at the seams with their fiery personalities. Their spirit and comradery harks back to the days of old, of adventure. It is neither the boat nor the sea that is keeping them together. Their chemistry, sense of loyalty, respect for one another and Edwards is moving to see captured so vividly.

In one interesting moment, cheering erupts from the crowd as the women pull into port, the crew having earned the respect of their viewership on the third leg. Meanwhile, the interviewed journalist Bob Fisher remarks this was because ‘…they were now regarded as men’ which incited a wonderful ripple through the cinema as they booed. Amusing as the misogyny was, it was enlightening. Presented within the context of its time, the ‘tin-full of tarts’ line very retro indeed, the sexism was not portrayed as scathingly as it could have been. The critical men interviewed years later are handled tactfully, as they display an understanding of the criticism they inflicted.

The ominous ocean is captured beautifully in the shots of waves carrying us contemplatively through quiet moments. The tumultuous nature remains a staple in the film. As we watch the crew fight back, clinging to the boat as the wave’s crash relentlessly, we’re reminded of their awe-inspiring endurance. For this is what this film is about; Endurance, courage and determination. The editing is exhilarating, masterfully selecting images of the Maiden at sea, the over-whelming numbers of competing boats and the harsh weather conditions. It is story that had to be told raw, from found-footage, from the people themselves.

Expansive and yet tenderly personal, the film treads carefully enough that it never stumbles into the sentimental. What this crew achieved should not be forgotten. One of the film’s most touching moments is, as their yacht approaches the UK coast, the sun rising in the distance, the crew weary and the sea calm, they are joined gradually by other boats. And, as their company grows, so does our sense of victory. Watching ‘that little horror’, as Edwards’s mother fondly calls her, finally realize that they have done something bigger than they ever imagined, left its poignant mark on a theatre moved to silence. What I left with, from that screening, was a sense of pride for some women on a boat.

Rating 5/5

Now playing at Brighton Duke of York’s Picture House.