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Young Woman and the Sea (2024)

It’s hard not to be inspired a century later by the stupendous achievement of the first woman to swim the English Channel.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama

Director: Joachim Rønning

Actors: Daisy Ridley, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Stephen Graham, Kim Bodnia, Christopher Eccleston, Glenn Fleshler

Year: 2024

MPAA Rating: PG

Country: USA

Just a week ago, I “swam” in Puget Sound (note the liberal quotes) in mid-May for a solid ten minutes. I was quite pleased with myself for my endurance (I was paddling around with friends) and I decided to get out when I couldn’t feel my hands. The water was 53F.

In 1924, New Yorker Trudy Ederle swam 21 miles across the English Channel in water that was only 3 degrees warmer, a feat that had her in the sea for over 14 hours. I bow down in awe!

Young Woman and the Sea is an old-fashioned, appealing sports tale, rousing for many reasons beyond the obvious one that it’s a true story (the best ones are). Trudy overcame many obstacles, starting with almost dying of the measles as a kid, to facing the obstacles of social mores that discouraged women from learning how to swim, much less from participating in any competitive sports. As a kid, she and her older sister Meg simply thought it would be awesome to get rewarded with a free hot dog, just like the boys did, for swimming around the Coney Island Pier.

As the girls grow older (with Daisy Ridley starring as Trudy and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Meg), their mother encourages them to join a swim team where Trudy’s skill and ambition starts to surpass her sister. When Trudy starts breaking swim records and is invited to the 1924 Paris Olympics, what should be an amazing dream just makes her more determined that she has to succeed in her own terms. Watching newsreels from across the pond, she decides to swim the English Channel.

The heart of the film is carried by the warmth between the sisters. Meg, knowing that she doesn’t have the talent and drive of her younger sister, accepts her traditional path of being the butcher’s daughter and getting married to a German immigrant. Trudy doesn’t see herself on this path, and it is refreshing to see the unwavering support first from her sister, then her mom, and finally from her staunch traditional father, especially considering the era. This tribute to hard-working immigrant parents and their sacrifices for their first-generation American kids seems extra important to highlight these days. 

Fans of the wholesomeness of the period-piece Boys in the Boat and the female spirit of the grittier Nyad will enjoy this film. Because the film is Disneyfied, I couldn’t help but notice that Daisy Ridley is a bit sleek and lithe for a cold water swimmer (she doesn’t look bloated and crusted with salt like anyone would after hours and hours in the water), and villains are broadly cartoony (Christopher Eccleston is the worst coach EVER)… but these are minor quibbles. Nerve-wracking scenes of her swimming in huge choppy waves, or through a mass of jellyfish, or, worst of all, alone in the dark are truly harrowing , and do NOT make me want to attempt any of this. 

Young Woman and the Sea is an inspirational flick for not only girls and women but for everyone, just like Trudy herself was, back in the day. Her feat was truly a marvel, and the movie is worth seeing to celebrate a feat that is still stupendous achievement today.

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