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Film review: 'Maiden'


The gripping documentary "Maiden" recounts the story of 24-year-old Tracy Edwards and her dream of leading the first all-female crew to sail the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race. It offers an inspiring look at an unsung trailblazer in the fight against sexism in the world of sports.

Back then, no all-woman crew had ever been allowed to take part in the Whitbread (which has since been renamed The Ocean Race), which is the longest yachting race in the world. In the grueling competition, participants endure a nine-month journey covering 33,000 nautical miles. It's an astonishing feat of perseverance in which the most fearsome opponent frequently turns out to be the elemental, unpredictable force of the ocean itself.

We hear how Edwards overcame a childhood marked by tragedy to become a fiercely independent young woman who fell in love with sailing. But when the best position she's offered on any crew is as the ship cook, she becomes determined to prove herself as capable as anyone by entering the prestigious Whitbread competition. But finding a team of fellow female sailors to join her on the voyage turns out to be the least of her challenges.

Besides preparing themselves for the grueling race, the women suffer through sneers from sexist male opponents -- who derisively refer to their ship, the Maiden, as a "tin full of tarts" -- and patronizing coverage by the media, which is preoccupied with their love lives and whether the women will be able to get along with each other long enough to survive the journey.

We feel their frustration at being covered in the media as a human interest story and not as the professional sailors they know themselves to be. There's no escaping the sense that the world was watching and waiting for them to fail, or even worse: give up and admit they were fools for even trying.

Using archival footage shot throughout the journey by Edwards' crewmate and childhood friend, Jo Gooding, combined with present-day interviews with the crew and commentators, "Maiden" is an enthralling journey. One of the most fascinating threads of the film allows us to observe Edwards' evolution from a young woman who tells reporters, "I hate the word 'feminist'" to the fearless woman who happy embraces the title.

It's powerful and deeply emotional to see these strong and tenacious women fight for their rightful place in this world, discovering a sense of fulfillment they could only find in the freedom of the open sea.