Saturday, June 22, 2024

“YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEA”

THE STORYThe story of competitive swimmer Trudy Ederle, who, in 1926, was the first woman to ever swim across the English Channel.

THE CASTDaisy Ridley, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Stephen Graham, Kim Bodnia, Sian Clifford, Christopher Eccleston & Glenn Fleshler

THE TEAMJoachim Rønning (Director) & Jeff Nathanson (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 129 Minutes


In the sports world, there are athletes, and then there are greats who have pushed their bodies and minds to the limits to achieve what other people can’t imagine. Olympic swimmer Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle was one of those giants when, in 1926, she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. The swim was beyond difficult, but the road to that moment was even more excruciating as she battled against sexism and people standing in her way for years. Director Joachim Rønning (“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil“) takes on this important figure’s legacy in “Young Woman and the Sea.” The comparisons to last year’s “Nyad” are inevitable, as both follow powerhouse female swimmers with unquenchable thirsts for glory. Still, viewers turned off by Diana Nyad’s tough persona (exceptionally played by Annette Bening) will have an easier time with Daisy Ridley’s charming Trudy. 

The swimmer’s eventual rise to fame was almost cut short in childhood when young Trudy (Olive Abercrombie) was sick with measles and on the brink of death. After she recovered, Trudy had poor hearing, which would impact her whole life and made her parents, Henry (Kim Bodnia) and Gertrude (Jeanette Hain), keep her from activities in which other children engaged. Henry, a butcher, runs a tight ship in his household as the patriarch, and because this is the early 1900s, the women in his household aren’t free to do whatever their hearts please. When Gertrude puts her foot down and decides she wants her daughters to know how to swim, he scoffs at the idea of girls training for a men’s sport. What he doesn’t know is that his daughter will have the last laugh years later.

Slow and weak compared to the other girls, Trudy eventually works up her strength to stand out. Years later, teenage Trudy (Ridley) is unstoppable in the water, setting world records left and right, thanks to her training with coach Charlotte (Sian Clifford). This all eventually leads Trudy to the Olympics in 1924, when screenwriter Jeff Nathanson’s story strangely chooses to showcase her bronze wins as defeat, as if that’s anything to scoff at, and doesn’t mention that she was part of a gold medal-winning and record-setting 100-meter freestyle relay team. Nonetheless, Trudy feels like it’s all over for her and that she’ll have to settle for a suffocating home life, which we see her sister Meg (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) preparing for herself. But, never being one to quit, Trudy later sets her eyes on something far more ambitious: swimming the English Channel.

In films like this and “Nyad,” it’s always intriguing to learn why someone wants to do something as dangerous and maddening as swimming numerous miles in open water. In “Young Woman and the Sea,” English Channel swimming attempts are mentioned constantly on radio programs, with many men risking their lives – and some ultimately dying – as they attempt the 21-mile swim. We might not get a cut-and-dry answer as to why Trudy chose to do this, but the film gives us plenty of insight. Ridley portrays Trudy with determination, poise, and charm and shows she’s never one to back down from a challenge. Seeing so many men fail this feat only fuels her desire to try it herself, knowing she has the strength and endurance to complete it. She’s also privy to how women are looked down upon, undervalued, and underestimated in society; after all, women had just finally received the right to vote a few years prior. This attempt was not only for herself but for women everywhere, to show that they can do anything men can and that nothing should stand in their way from doing what they desire.

Once Trudy eyes the English Channel swim, the film picks up momentum and drama. The cloudy skies on the shore of France and the dark gray hues of the water make us shiver as Trudy plunges into the depths for her first attempt. Sexism and betrayal follow her wherever she goes, especially as her trainer, Jabez Wolffe (a vicious Christopher Eccleston, sporting a strong Scottish accent) – who himself attempted to swim the channel 22 times – sabotages her attempt. Historical inaccuracies are aplenty in this section of the film. In real life, Trudy returned to the United States and began training with Bill Burgess, who successfully swam the channel in 1911 and earned a contract to help complete her second attempt. In the film, she evades her return home and sneakily plans a second swim with just Bill (Stephen Graham), her father, and her sister by her side. Despite the changes for dramatic effect, it’s still harrowing to watch Trudy go up against weather conditions, changing tides, and a large gathering of jellyfish to reach the English shoreline. The final stretch of her swim is the most grueling, physically and emotionally, and Ridley pulls out all the dramatic stops, delivering one of her best performances yet. She’s aided by a phenomenal score by Amelia Warner that pulls at the heartstrings and fuels the adrenaline to push through the most demanding of challenges.

While it’s strange that “Young Woman and the Sea” alters much of Ederle’s story, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an inspiring tale of female empowerment and sheer athleticism, proving that no one should ever be underestimated just because of their gender. Ederle’s name has been forgotten over time – this film might be many people’s introduction to her – but her legacy has received a deserved shoutout with Rønning’s emotionally stirring film.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Daisy Ridley steps into this important figure’s swim cap with determination and charm. An inspiring tale that reminds all that no one should ever be underestimated just because of their gender. An emotionally stirring score.

THE BAD - Plenty of historical inaccuracies and strange changes were made to Ederle’s story. Can't help but feel predictable and cliched.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Ema Sasic
Ema Sasic
Journalist for The Desert Sun. Film critic and awards season enthusiast. Bosnian immigrant

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Daisy Ridley steps into this important figure’s swim cap with determination and charm. An inspiring tale that reminds all that no one should ever be underestimated just because of their gender. An emotionally stirring score.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Plenty of historical inaccuracies and strange changes were made to Ederle’s story. Can't help but feel predictable and cliched.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEA"