As tense and exciting as anything scripted in Hollywood, Alex Holmes’ documentary Maiden is all the more remarkable for being a true story. It takes viewers back to 1989, when Tracy Edwards, then 24, became the first skipper of an all-female sailing crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race. Facing both the elements and skepticism from the establishment, Edwards and her team defied expectations — and scored a victory for feminism in the process.
Sailing may not seem as difficult a sporting nut for women to crack as, say, pro football or rugby. But its history as a privileged pastime means that traditions run deep, and any change to “how things have always been done” is often perceived as a direct threat. (Also, sailing all the way around the world is no game of lawn tennis.) So when Edwards and her crew decided to literally rock the boat in the ’80s, they faced derision. And that wasn’t the only challenge in their path: Internal conflict, becalmed waters, and storms are just some of the obstacles they had to overcome on their life-changing journey.
Holmes mixes contemporary interviews with Edwards and her crew — as well as others involved in/caught up by the race, including some of the men who pooh-poohed the women’s chances — with vintage footage. Seeing how the team has aged since the late ’80s (in a word, gracefully) helps you appreciate the perspective that the decades have given them. It’s clear, for example, that the strong-willed 24-year-old Edwards could be difficult to work with/for; while Older Tracy doesn’t apologize for that (and nor should she), she also seems to have mellowed in a way that makes you think she’d tell her younger self to lighten up a little.
The story of the Maiden’s trip around the world is full of crests and troughs, and even if you know the race’s outcome, you’ll be caught up in the women’s fight to prove their worth on the water. Holmes has done an excellent job of blending an inspiring sports story with a rousing feminist one. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale An exciting, engrossing film from start to finish, Maiden follows skipper Tracy Edwards and her all-woman crew, who were the first to sail around the world in the 1979-1980 Whitbread Round the World Race. Director Alex Holmes, aided by editor Katie Bryer and cinematographer Chris Openshaw, blends together footage filmed onboard during the race with old and new interviews with Tracy, her crew, and journalists who covered the event. The experience of these women, as they struggle with setbacks, face dangerous challenges at sea, and celebrate each victory along their journey, is as compelling and tension-filled as some of the best action flicks. A testament to determination and resolve, audiences will find it inspirational. They will also appreciate the honest, straightforward way those who took part examine the flaws, weaknesses, and occasional bad decisions, even as they threatened to end their journey, or possibly even their lives. Maiden will be universally satisfying to anyone who chooses to take this cinematic journey. It proves, regardless of gender, collaboration, tenacity, and courage, make almost anything is possible. Even if that effort doesn’t lead to success, the joy is always in the trying.
MaryAnn Johanson What an amazing story! As beautifully modulated as fiction, full of twists and turns and ironies and a perfect ending, yet it’s all true. What a stunning reminder that, even today as we continue to push back against outrageous misogyny, we have indeed made some progress in the past 30 years. (The endless barrage of grown women being called “girls” here, over and over again, is appalling. Things don’t feel *quite* this bad today.) This is a stupendous example, too, of women relishing adventure and danger, of pushing themselves to their limits and beyond, of learning and growing, of proving themselves not only to the world at large but to themselves, too. Tracy Edwards is a massive inspiration to girls and women, but should be one for boys and men, too.
Nell Minow: It is remarkable how often movies seem to show up at just the right time. Maiden is very much of its time, and a welcome reminder of how far we have come in some ways. At least, television news correspondents would not be as blatantly sexist today. But it is also a powerful reminder of how vital the issues it raised still are. Read interview with Tracy Edwards and Alex Holmes.
Pam Grady: Thirty years after 26-year-old Tracy Edwards challenged the orthodoxy of the sailing world, by putting together an all-women crew and skippering her second-hand yacht in the Whitbread Round the World Race, she, her crew, and the competition recall that history-making event in this rousing and inspiring documentary. Director Alex Holmes has an ace in the hole: Not only did he have access to news footage and the Whitbread Race’s archives, the Maiden’s voyage was also captured by crew member Joanna Gooding, revealing moments of euphoria and periods of great tension. The story unfolds through the memories of Edwards and the others, but never feels nostalgic, thanks to the vitality of Gooding’s work. This is a marvelous story, a testament to Edwards’ determination and to the power of women to get things done—even the extraordinary.
Loren King The timing could not be more perfect for the exhilarating, inspirational Maiden, director Alex Holmes’s documentary about the first ever all-female crew, led by a novice British skipper, that competed in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race. I’m not sure how well-known this story is outside England, or outside sailing circles, but seeing it unfold onscreen, with a captivating cast of real-life characters and stunning archival footage of the grueling race, one is thankful that it’s been so memorably revisited and brought to general attention. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Maiden is a thrilling non-stop action documentary that follows the first ever all-women sailing team to compete in the famously grueling and dangerous Whitbread Round the Wprld Race in 1989. Skipper Tracy Edwards, then 24 years old and a cook on charter vessels, decided to take on the challenge and stuck with it — through near financial disaster, the disdain of men who ruled the racers’ seas, the struggle to chart the winner’s course through storms and doldrums. Edwards is pure feminist: smart, determined, charismatic and absolutely amazing. She, and the winds of fortune that factor into the race will blow you away.
Sheila Roberts In the late 1980s, being a stewardess on a charter boat was the only way a woman could get work onboard a boat full of men, but Tracy Edwards loved sailing the ocean and had bigger ambitions. When she and her first-ever all-female crew decided to compete in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race, their male competitors doubted they had what it took to compete in the world’s toughest yacht race, let alone finish. However, these highly skilled women proved them wrong. Read full review.
Marina Antunes Being a trailblazer never loses its importance and that’s what Tracy Edwards and the crew of the Maiden were and are: trailblazers. While the events of Maiden took place 30 years ago, the message of Alex Holmes’ documentary and the struggle of Edwards and her team are as important and poignant today as they were in 1989. Whether or not you know anything about sailing or are familiar with this particular story is irrelevant. Like the women who operated it, Maiden’s tale of friendship, adversity, empowerment, and survival is as relevant and important today as it was three decades ago. And also as emotionally resonant.
Susan Wloszczyna: Sometimes the word “heroine” just won’t do. The documentary Maiden tells the inspirational story of Tracy Edwards, a true feminist hero who, at the age of 24, willed herself into becoming the skipper of the first all-women yacht crew to race around the world in 1989. Her only real sea-faring experience was as a cook and cleaner on charter boats. But with King Hussein of Jordan as her unlikely benefactor, she and her 12-women team managed collect enough money to renovate an aluminum vessel that they dubbed Maiden and made unexpected history. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand: There is probably not a woman alive who hasn’t encountered skepticism and ridicule for wanting to do something women aren’t supposed to want to do. Some women wither under the pressure, but many simply become more determined than ever. So it was with Tracy Edwards, an English sailor who was tired of being shoved into the galley to cook for the “real” boatmen and decided to skipper an all-woman team in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race. Alex Holmes’ documentary, Maiden, after the name of the yacht Edwards and crew sailed in the race, gloriously relies mainly on footage shot by some of the crew members and archival news coverage of Maiden’s journey, giving viewers a first-hand account of the trials and triumphs of living at close quarters for some nine months piloting a 58-foot aluminum racing yacht through rough waters, bad weather, and frustratingly windless doldrums to cross the finish line in Southhampton, England. Some 30 years later, the women who went on this historic voyage are honest about their experience in talking-head interviews with Holmes, confessing their fears, airing their conflicts, and affirming the strong friendship they developed on the way. Most impressive is the exhilaration all of them still feel about doing exactly what they set out to do despite the opposition they faced.
Liz Whittemore Maiden is so much more than just a sailing documentary. It’s a story of the human spirit, it’s a story of breaking the glass ceiling of a boys club sport, it’s an engrossing character study, and so much more. The smart editing makes this quite the thrill ride and will undoubtedly reignite your passion for documentary films. Maiden should absolutely be on everyone’s Oscar ballot this year.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Maiden is the sort of documentary that will make audiences wonder why they’ve never heard of the story of the intrepid women who were the very first to sail an all-female-crewed boat in the Whitbread Round the World ocean race in 1989-1990. Led by Skipper Tracy Skipper, then in her mid 20s, and her motley crew of all women (some of whom were veteran sailors, some of whom were simply up for the adventure of their lives), the Maiden made its improbable voyage. No one – not the yachtsmen racing them nor the sports journalists covering the event – believed they would even finish the first leg of the race. Through interviews and video footage, the documentary directed by Alex Holmes chronicles how Tracy and her crew defied the odds and proved to the world that women could be competitive racers. Even if you don’t know anything about competitive yacht racing, this is a riveting and poignant film.
Cate Marquis In 1989, Tracy Edwards and her all-women crew became the first female sailing crew to compete in the 1989-1990 Whitbread around-the-world race. Excluded by men from joining a team in the era’s hyper-male boys club of competitive sailing, Edwards set out to form her own team, rightly figuring there were other women out there who were skilled sailors who also had been relegated only to the role of ship’s cook. Boy, was she right! When she put out the call, capable women who had been excluded showed up from around the world. The thrilling documentary Maiden tells their story in gripping fashion, in the tradition of tales of high adventure associated with the sea. It does not hurt that Edwards is scrappy, outspoken and photogenic, a tiny woman who would not back down. Maiden includes footage of the crew back in the day, as well as interviews with the women now, and some with their opponents and the skeptical media. The crew of the Maiden set out with the goal only to finish the race but did so much more. It wasn’t easy, as the documentary shows, and the women faced both the challenge of finding sponsors, rebuilding a dilapidated sail boat, and public ridicule and more. Then they faced the challenges of the sea. Maiden is a tale of determination and high adventure, showing that you can’t keep a good woman down.
Directors: Alex Holmes
Release Date: June 28, 2019
Running Time: 97 minutes
Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin