In 1989, an all-female crew boarded a 58-foot yacht in Portsmouth, England to start the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Dismissed by the chauvinistic press as “a tin full of tarts” that wasn’t likely to finish the first stage of the 32,000-nautical-mile race, the “girls” on the yacht, over the course of nine months, showed them something far different.
That’s the story told in director Alex Holmes’ spirited documentary “Maiden,” which takes its name from the yacht and utilizes home movie and vintage footage and contemporary interviews with the crew members, now in their late '50s, to tell their story that’s gripping, especially if you don’t know the outcome of the race going in.
That won't be given away here. Nor will there be much discussion of what happened in each stage of the race, except to note that the video shot by the crew puts you there, in sometimes near-terrifying fashion, as the Maiden maneuvers through icebergs near Antarctica and struggles to find wind in the Atlantic.
The film, however, doesn’t open with the cannon shot that starts the race. Rather, it spins back a couple decades earlier to trace the life of Tracy Edwards, the Maiden’s 26-year-old skipper, from her idyllic childhood until the death of her father, and her teenage rebellion, triggered by an abusive step father that saw her run to Greece and land a job as, essentially, a waitress on a charter yacht.
That got Edwards sailing -- and triggered her desire to get above deck as part of a racing yacht crew. That, however, wasn’t going to happen because “girls” weren’t permitted. So she put together an all-female crew and set about getting a boat -- and raising the millions required to compete in the race.
That’s the gist of the story. “Maiden,” is more than just a sports movie -- a very good sports movie. Along the way, it looks at the assumptions made about the crew, their relationships while on the boat and, notably, Edwards’ growing feminism, from her denial of the term to a full embrace decades later.
To say the film is inspirational and moving would be an understatement -- it’s ending is heart-in-your-throat time. But, at the most important level, “Maiden” isn’t about winning or losing a race and taking Beefeater trophies.
It’s a dynamic film about following a dream, sacrificing nearly everything to achieve it and, in doing so, breaking down barriers for women while putting the sexists in their place.