Young Woman and the Sea Review

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Young Woman and the Sea has been promoted as an “unbelievable true story.” Trudy Ederle’s swim across the English Channel, while extraordinary, isn’t exactly unbelievable. What is hard to believe are some of the other plot points. As is the case with all modern biopics, audiences will likely turn to Wikipedia the second the credits roll. Scrolling through Ederle’s page, the liberties taken quickly leap out. While the film is ultimately faithful to Ederle’s career-defining achievement, many scenes are embellished or straight-up fictionalized.

Although I could list the historical inaccuracies, a movie’s quality shouldn’t be judged based on someone’s Wikipedia article. That’s not to say these liberties can’t get distracting, but what matters is whether the film captures Ederle’s spirit. Considering that Ederle had a stint in vaudeville, chances are she’d appreciate the film’s romanticized approach. The audience should know what they’re in store for as the Disney logo appears. This isn’t going to be the most hard-hitting sports biopic. For those who grew up with Remember the Titans, The Rookie, and Miracle, though, Young Woman and the Sea is another inspiring addition to the subgenre.

Rey from Star Wars might go down as her most iconic work, but Young Woman and the Sea is another sign that Daisy Ridley is just getting started. The film succeeds primarily thanks to her endearing performance as Ederle, who’s underestimated due to her sickly childhood. Even if it weren’t for the measles, Ederle’s gender would still be a point of contention. While sexism only gets worse the further you go back and is important to address, Jeff Nathanson’s script dwells on this theme in overly familiar ways. The film could’ve used a female writer to bring a fresher perspective. As repetitive as some scenes can be, the film does take the viewer by surprise at times.

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Ederle is the most outspoken person in her family, yet she’s not the only one. She gets her strength from her sister Meg (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who joins her in the water. Ederle’s father (Kim Bodnia) is stern, but her mother (Jeanette Hain) truly wears the pants in the family. The supporting cast is rounded out with strong work from Sian Clifford as Ederle’s trainer and Stephen Graham as Bill Burgess, whose swimwear leaves little to the imagination. The film stumbles with the introduction of Jabez Wolffe (Christopher Eccleston), a trainer bent on sabotaging Ederle. While the real Wolffe did allegedly have a resentful attitude toward Ederle, the film could’ve done without a conventional villain when the water is the true obstacle.

That said, director Joachim Rønning and cinematographer Óscar Faura paint an intimidating yet alluring portrait of the sea. We can sense how freezing the water is, but Ridley’s performance brings a warmth to the screen. The breathtaking imagery is elevated by Amelia Warner’s all-encompassing score, bringing out the vastness of the English Channel and Ederle’s determination. Storytelling-wise, Young Woman and the Sea doesn’t break new ground, especially if you saw Nyad a few months ago. Annette Bening might’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for that film (Justice for Greta Lett), but Ridley gives a more compelling performance here. She plays Ederle with a balance of sincerity and grit, making it hard not to root for her, even if you know where this story inevitably ends.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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