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Young Woman and the Sea Review

May 31, 2024 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEA Image Credit: Disney
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Young Woman and the Sea Review  

Directed By: Joachim Rønning
Written By: Jeff Nathanson; Based on the book by Glenn Stout
Runtime: 100 minutes

Daisy Ridley – Gertrude Ederle
Tilda Cobham-Hervey – Margaret Ederle
Stephen Graham – Bill Burgess
Kim Bodnia – Henry Ederle
Jeanette Hain – Gertrude Anna Ederle
Christopher Eccleston – Jabez Wolffe
Glenn Fleshler – James Sullivan
Sian Clifford – Charlotte “Lottie” Epstein

The new Disney movie, Young Woman and the Sea, depicts the life and times of the trailblazing athlete Trudy Ederle (Daisy Ridley), who embarks on a quest for greatness to become the first woman to swim the English Channel. At the risk of using a hot-button term, Young Woman and the Sea showcases first-wave feminism through Ederle’s eyes as she seeks athletic greatness and glory through swimming. She accomplished this feat at a time when it was considered radical for women to have careers and compete in sports. Filmmaker Joachim Rønning depicts Ederle’s life, and how she overcame a debilitating illness with her desire to swim at a time when men scoffed at the notion of women becoming competitive swimmers.

Ridley provides a solid believable performance as Ederle. Her performance convincingly delivers the film’s awe-inspiring and motivational moments well. The moments that come across the best onscreen emerge through Trudy’s relationship with her older sister, Margeret Ederle (Cobham-Hervey). Margaret is the first one in her family who is allowed to swim and showcases her initial talent. However, she eventually reaches her ceiling in her athletic career, and there’s not much left for her to aspire to, other than a loveless marriage arranged by her stern, traditional father, Henry Ederle (Bodnia). Ridley and Cobham-Hervey excel throughout the film by showcasing their characters’ sisterly bond, despite some tension as Trudy eventually surpasses her sister and becomes a world record holder.

Young Woman and the Sea errs as most Hollywood films proclaiming to be “based on a true story” often do, taking uninspiring shortcuts for dramatic effect. While Trudy Ederle’s trip to the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris is a significant sequence depicted in the movie, its historical accuracy is heavily edited for narrative purposes. In real-life history, Trudy Ederle joined America’s Olympic swim team at the 1924 games, only a few years after America started a women’s swim team for the Olympics. Women were not even allowed to compete at the Olympics until the start of the 20th century.

Nathanson’s pedestrian script disappointingly undercuts Ederle’s Olympic victories, transforming the event into a massive defeat for Ederle. In truth, Ederle won three medals at the Olympic games, including the gold. Young Woman and the Sea erases her gold medal victory and even ignores her bronze medal wins. Ederle returns home utterly defeated, and things look hopeless for her until she decides to swim the English Channel. In truth, Ederle was disappointed she didn’t win more gold medals, but altering her historical record to this degree makes Young Woman and the Sea feel less than authentic. Actually, the fact that Trudy was genuinely disappointed with winning only one gold medal makes her competitive spirit and journey even more inspiring.

The film’s second half focuses on Trudy’s goal to swim the English Channel, a feat that even most male swimmers struggle to accomplish. Trudy is not only fighting against a dangerous 21-mile trek across the ocean. She must face a belligerent coach, Jabez Wolffe (Eccleston), who wants her to fail, and the oppressive societal mores, all of which claim women are too weak to compete.

Despite an overly rote, cliche script, Rønning’s direction coupled with a rousing score by Amelia Warner, manages at times to capture the story’s trailblazing, inspiring spirit. The film positions Trudy as an inspiring, likable underdog despite rehashing moments from other similar Disney movies. One sequence in particular is ripped straight out of the 2016 Disney film The Finest Hours.

Elsewhere, the movie undercuts Trudy’s relationship with Bill Burgess (Graham), a new mentor who believes in her drive to finish swimming the channel. One of the better aspects of Young Woman and the Sea depicts the importance of trusted coaches and mentors who believe in their protégés and nurture their talents. Graham only participates in Trudy’s trek late into the plot as she makes her second crossing on the English Channel.

As a period biographical drama, Young Woman and the Sea undeniably has its moments, with some solid, convincing performers. However, it rushes through Trudy Ederle’s journey and undercuts some of her real-life accomplishments to make her efforts appear even more harrowing and hopeless. It follows traditionally predictable beats of similar films that decent acting and high-quality production values do not always successfully elevate. Nevertheless, the film is passably, watchable entertainment.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Despite a rather predictable, pedestrian script that follows moments that seem way too familiar and typical of similar biographical sports dramas, Young Woman and the Sea exhibits some inspiring moments, thanks in large part to some solid performances and a great score by Amelia Warner. Notwithstanding the inauthentic scenes undercutting the real-life Trudy Ederle's amazing accomplishments, Joachim Rønning succeeds at points in creating an inspiring underdog story for the trailblazing athlete. The film follows the genre playbook beat-by-beat. At times, it does work, but often loses its grasp on historical authenticity for the sake of cliche storytelling.