There has been a yachting race around the world race every three or four years since 1973. The documentary Maiden tells the tale of the Whitbread Round the World Race of 1989-90, starting and ending that season in Southampton, England.
Specifically, it follows the efforts of Tracy Edwards, a generally directionless 24-year-old cook on charter boats, to become the skipper of the first-ever all-female crew to enter the race. Spoiler alert: she succeeds in getting into the race, with a ton of ingenuity and some royal help.
Unsurprisingly, the other crews were less than encouraging and the misogynist yachting press took bets on whether she and her crew would even make it to the first major stop, in Uruguay.
The film, written and directed by Alex Holmes and edited by Katie Bryer, has great archival footage, interspliced with Edwards and her crew today. For a story with a resolution that is knowable, it is exciting, riveting and breathtaking.
As one reviewer noted, “You ain’t seen nothing till you’ve seen storms out on the freezing black Southern Ocean near Antarctica, with 500-foot water geysers from giant waves caroming off ghostly icebergs in the mist.” It manages to avoid most of the sports story tropes.
For one thing, the hero is more than occasionally portrayed in a less-than-flattering light; one vital crew member quit before the race even started. Others admitted that the pressures of creating a team, and the event itself, sometimes “made her incredibly unpleasant to be around. But there is also no denying her determination.”
You may not care about yacht racing; it’s not a topic I’m generally interested in myself. Yet I related to the largely inexperienced captain and her crew, making mistakes, yet persevering.
Maiden is also a story of female empowerment that, unfortunately, still relevant today. It received positive reviews from critics (98% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (97%). I hope you get a chance to see it, preferably in a theater. My wife and I saw it last month, naturally, at the Spectrum in Albany.