Review: ‘Young Woman And The Sea’

Daisy Ridley Swims Her Way Into History In Disney's Inspiring Trudy Ederle Biopic

The sea is an untamed beast that only Daisy Ridley can conquer in Disney’s stirring, if simple, biopic Young Woman and the Sea. Ridley, who played the Force-powered heroine of three Star Wars movies, plays real-life hero Trudy Ederle, the first woman to successfully swim the 21 treacherous miles across the English channel. But it was more than just the waters she had to face, as sexism in a country where men didn’t want to give women the right to vote, heck, they didn’t even think they should be allowed to swim, was her biggest obstacle. Originally a Paramount production, before being acquired by Disney who planned it as a streaming exclusive in the pandemic months, it is an easily-accessible and inspiring story of one woman’s fight against the current of history, swimming her way into the history books.

To watch Young Woman and the Sea and the importance people took on athletics at the time, you’d be shocked that she’s barely mentioned as one of our greatest athletes. The largest parade for an athlete in New York history was for her, and yet you’d never know that. Hers is not a story that has traveled well across the decades. Hopefully, this film will help that. Trudy’s first battle as a child was with a case of measles that nearly killed her, but still robbed her of much of her hearing. Her father (Kim Bodina), an old world German immigrant and butcher with his own thoughts on a woman’s place in the home, refuses to let her swim. So Trudy sings “Ain’t We Got Fun” repeatedly until the man relents. It’s childish and played as a bit of humor, rather than resilience or even stubbornness. As an adult, Trudy continues to sing the song whenever she needs to steel her nerves against some roadblock, usually put in her way by a fragile male.

The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, adapted from Glenn Stout’s popular novel, focuses much of its attention on Trudy’s personal life; the people she loved and trials she faced long before she made the fateful plunge. An awkward swimmer as a child, who was told the water would hasten her eventual deafness, Trudy was second to her sister Meg (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) in the water. But she eventually found her stroke, thanks to a determined coach (Sian Clifford) and support from her mother (Jeanette Hain) who instilled in her daughters the will to be more than what is expected.

As Trudy begins winning races, men in power start taking notice…and doing what they can to halt her progress. Women were just beginning to make waves in sports and there were men at the top who weren’t willing to let that happen. Recruited for the VIII Olympics, Trudy and her team are given a misogynistic, petty coach, Jabez Wolffe (Christopher Eccleston), a man with repeated failed attempts to swim the English Channel. His main job is to keep the women away from the male athletes. He refused to let them train, and makes sure they are nice and feminine for the cameras. It’s like those scenes from A League of Their Own where the women are given classes on how to behave like ladies.

The broader story of Trudy Ederle’s path doesn’t exactly fit the straight female empowerment narrative favored in Disney biopics. There are loads of details left out, or changed altogether, such as her gold medal-winning success at the 1924 Olympics, or the contributions of other female athletes of the era. That’s fine, because the film is better for narrowing down the details and focusing on Trudy, whose fight against sexism was a very real thing. Nor does streamlining her tale diminish her accomplishment, which finds her braving frigid waters, devastating storm winds, stinging jellyfish, and even poisoned iced tea. Directed by Kon-Tiki and Pirates of the Caribbean director Joachim Rønning, every stroke is a harrowing, deadly exercise that could find Trudy lost at sea in the deadly shallows, her name scrawled on a wall with others who died before her.

Young Woman and the Sea would be a nice companion with George Clooney’s similarly old-fashioned underdog story set on the water, The Boys in the Boat.  Ridley, who boarded the film as an actor and later an exec-producer, is taking charge of her career in a way that mirrors Clooney’s eventual turn to filmmaking. It wouldn’t be a shock if she’s directing her own movies before long. We’re getting an idea of the type of projects she would gravitate to; those that highlight the accomplishments of women who have been lost to history. As Trudy, Ridley projects steeliness and eternal optimism; there’s never a moment when we feel that she’s going to accept losing. In reality, we know the challenge was great and there must have been doubts, but this is a film where she paddles right through any obstacles, a true champion we are more than happy to see beat the odds.

Young Woman and the Sea is in theaters now.

Young Woman and the Sea
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-young-woman-and-the-seaThe sea is an untamed beast that only Daisy Ridley can conquer in Disney's stirring, if simple, biopic Young Woman and the Sea. Ridley, who played the Force-powered heroine of three Star Wars movies, plays real-life hero Trudy Ederle, the first woman to successfully...