Categories: Film Reviews

‘Young Woman and the Sea’ Review: Daisy Ridley Embodies Triumph and Tenacity as History-Making Swimmer Trudy Ederle

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Daisy Ridley makes a triumphant return to the big screen, trading her vigilante hat in The Marsh King’s Daughter for a swim cap in a compelling new biopic that’s also centered around female empowerment. In Young Woman and the Sea, Ridley delivers her most potent performance to date, portraying Trudy Ederle, the real-life competitive swimmer who made history as the first woman to conquer the English Channel in the 1920s.

Though the title Young Woman and the Sea might not immediately captivate, the story it tells is profoundly moving and inspiring. Set against the backdrop of the early 20th century, just a few years after women gained the right to vote, the film underscores the persistent struggle against the patriarchy of the time, which often barred women from participating in many activities, especially sports. Ederle was among the pioneers who defied these societal norms, rising through the ranks to compete in the Olympics before her historic Channel swim.

Directed by Joachim Rønning and produced by Disney alongside Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Young Woman and the Sea is based on Glen Stout’s book, “Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World.” Rønning, known for his work on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, brings a blend of grand storytelling and character depth to the project, elevating it above previous swimmer biopics. Ridley offers a fierce and tender performance as she takes us on Edlere’s journey, which involves rigorous physical preparation and a relentless search for financial support, showcasing her determination and resilience.

Ridley guides us through Trudy’s historic 21-mile swim, which took just under 15 hours. Her achievement wasn’t realized on the first attempt, as she faced and overcame adversity at every turn. In fact, her immigrant family couldn’t afford swim lessons, so she cleaned the boiler to compensate the teacher.  Until one day, due to merit, she doesn’t have to anymore. The film is full of small wins that will have you laughing, crying, and cheering for our protagonist. 

Additionally, Trudy wore a two-piece swimsuit, considered scandalous at the time, as women typically competed in one-piece suits. This detail highlights not only the physical challenges she faced but also the societal barriers she shattered.

Young Woman and the Sea eloquently captures Trudy Ederle’s poignant and valiant perseverance. Ridley’s award-worthy performance draws you in with its depth and authenticity. Tilda Cobham-Hervey delivers a powerful supporting turn as Trudy’s sister, Margaret, who fervently supports Trudy’s historic endeavor. Spanish cinematographer Óscar Faura masterfully balances the azure hues of the water and sky, immersing the audience in Trudy’s arduous journey and inspiring us to cheer for her success as she battles the frigid sea. Amelia Warner’s moving score elevates the story, adding heart and an emotional punch.

With a concise runtime of 100 minutes, this spectacularly shot, inspirational sports story is nearly flawless, despite occasionally veering into underdog clichés. The recent Netflix biopic featuring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, which tells the story of Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Florida, comes to mind. While both films highlight the extraordinary feats of female swimmers who challenged the status quo and left indelible marks on history, it could be said that Trudy paved the way for Diana; therefore making her (and the film) more significant in many ways other than sheer production value.

Young Woman and the Sea is more than a historical drama; it’s a celebration of female empowerment, a galvanizing testament to Trudy Ederle’s indomitable spirit, and a stark reminder of the barriers women have overcome and continue to challenge today. Through Ederle’s lens, the film invites us to reflect on our own journeys and the obstacles we face, masterfully encouraging us to persevere and triumph with her and as she did.

Grade: A

Walt Disney Pictures will release Young Woman and the Sea only in theaters on May 31, 2024.

Landon Johnson

Landon Johnson is a writer and a film and marketing guru. Through his six-year career in media marketing and development, he has worked in New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong for a variety of entertainment companies. He can quote every line from Wes Craven's "Scream," and is a voting member of the Screen Actors Guild who has served on numerous awards nominating committees for both film and TV. When he's not binge-watching independent films, he has a real passion for promoting untold stories portrayed on film that have a lasting impact on audiences.

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