‘Maiden’ review: Alex Holmes’ yachting documentary thrills

"Maiden" Photo Credit: Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Alex Holmes’ film about an all-female crew competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race will have you on the edge of your seat.

"Maiden" Photo Credit: Mariah Lopez


Documentary directed by Alex Holmes

Playing at Angelika Film Center, Alamo Drafthouse, Cinemas 1,2 & 3, Landmark 57

There’s nothing like an underdog sports story, and while I tend to think of boating as more of “that way to get to Staten Island” than as an equal to the Stanley Cup, Alex Holmes’ new film “Maiden” ends with one of those lump-in-your-throat, stand-up-and-cheer moments we all look for in movies. Best is how it comes from real life.

For those of us old enough to remember 1989, it doesn’t seem like that long ago until we scrutinize certain aspects of society. In the world of international yacht racing, the mere suggestion of an all-female crew competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now called The Ocean Race) was a topic of derision and scorn. “A tin full of tarts” a boating journalist called the “Maiden” at the time, and that was in the noted “liberal” newspaper The Guardian. No one thought they could even finish the first of the six legs of the five-month race, let alone actually compete. They were proved wrong.

In a contemporary interview and in moments from her abundant archives, skipper Tracy Edwards is a perfect blend of determination and poise. Sailing became a passion for her when it first meant escape. A teen runaway from Wales, Edwards found herself working on charterboats serving drinks after locking horns with an abusive stepfather. She grew sea legs and made important friends, including King Hussein of Jordan.

That relationship was put to great use when she realized there was no way she’d get a crew position on the Round the World Race other than as cook. She gritted her teeth through that role during the ’85-’86 tournament and decided to create her own opportunities. She assembled the best competitive women sailors, of which there were not many, but all of whom were itching to give an “all-girls” ship a try. When no other sponsors could be found — and with deadlines looming — she gave her old Jordanian monarch pal a call.

Then came the hard part: surviving at sea. From the equator to Antarctica, there isn’t a moment without doom crashing at Edwards’ sides. Holmes’ film doesn’t exactly fudge facts, but maybe omits some things here and there in the name of drama, or at least that’s my cursory reading from post-screening research. What’s most important, though, is how the crew of Maiden grew from sideshow human interest story to bona fide yachting legends.

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