Updated: Feb 9
The Whitbread Round the World Race (now called The Ocean Race) is a yacht race around the world. Since 1973-74, it has been contested every three years. It is a grueling, sometimes deadly, competition, featuring teams sailing day and night for weeks at a time to finish each leg. In total, it takes approximately nine months to complete. In 1985, Tracy Edwards was a 23 year old woman who desperately wanted to take part in the Whitbread. Women were not considered to be anywhere near the level of men when it came to ocean racing, so she was only able to get a job as a cook. The experience left her frustrated and determined to do something about it. So, she acquired her own yacht and assembled an all-female crew to compete in the 1989-90 race. This fascinating story is told in Maiden, an inspiring documentary about a group of women who did not want to make a statement; they just wanted to race.
Maiden (95 minutes, minus the end credits) consists of a series of new interviews with the ship’s crew, a few of their competitors and journalists who covered the event, and footage filmed during training and the event itself. Director Alex Holmes allows the subjects to narrate their own story. Hearing them describe their experiences is very compelling.
It is pretty amazing that they have so much quality footage of them during the race, which adds to the drama of the retelling. Sometimes a story demands a certain style of documentary. In this case it is a simple formula of talking mixed with archival footage. Anything else would have gotten in the way. Holmes made the right decision by letting the women speak for themselves.
The most interesting thing about the way Tracy Edwards and her crew frame their entry into the Whitbread Round the World Race is they do not discuss it in a political sense. Yes, Tracy wanted to prove that women could do it as expertly as the men, but only because she wanted to participate. If she had been let on a crew in the first place, she probably would never have gotten the idea to put together an all-female team.
They were actually annoyed by the coverage treating them like a human-interest gimmick, instead of worthy competitors. To them, they were just another team, albeit one thought to be a joke by the press as well as their fellow racers. It is an intriguing way to approach this because, although the movie definitely would not exist if they had not made history, they do not position themselves as feminist icons. They were merely trying to fulfill a dream.
Maiden is captivating in part due to Holmes never putting too fine a point on the significance of what they did. He does not force a message that is already so inherent in the story (The word “maiden” has two main meanings: an unmarried young woman and the first of something; so the point is made just by looking at them standing on their boat). The response the public had to them makes that statement better than any of the interviewees could have. They captured people’s imaginations, not only because they were women competing in what had previously been seen exclusively as a man’s game, but because all they wanted to do was compete. Thanks to this simplicity, Maiden is a very moving journey.
4¼ out of 5
Directed by Alex Holmes