(UK, 93 min.)
Dir. Alex Holmes
Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere)
There’s a fairytale aspect to Maiden, a documentary about a pioneering women’s sailing crew that waived the rules and ruled the waves. One day, while working in the sailboat of a kitchen in the mid-1980s, a young English woman named Tracy Edwards found herself talking to Jordan’s King Hussein, who was touring the boat. Hussein said she should follow her dream of sailing around the world. Later, when Edwards was struggling to raise money for her project to take the first all-female crew in the 1989-1990 Whitbread Around the World Race (retitled the Volvo Ocean Race), she tapped the Jordanian monarch for funding.
Director Alex Holmes’ doc offers a conventional, TV-friendly mixture of talking heads and lively archival footage (set to an emphatic musical score) that benefits greatly from the winning presence in Edwards, both past and present: The pug-nosed, tomboy of the 1980s who said she hated the word “feminist” is now a chic, articulate woman in her fifties, who, along with her crew mates, definitely sees their achievement through a feminist lens. In part, their perspective shifted because of the exceedingly laddish nature of the sport and hostility of the press (one hack dubbed them “tarts in a tin”) when they shocked everyone by finishing the first cross-Atlantic segment of the race. Soon, the journalists were all over the underdog story when the skipper Edwards and her crew won the next two legs of the race.
What made Tracy race? In interviews with Edwards and her school friend (and later sailing partner) we learn how, when Tracy’s father died, her mother remarried a physically-abusive drunk: The formerly good little girl turned rebel, was suspended from school 26 times before being expelled, and then readmitted to write her final exams. She didn’t show up; instead, she ran from home and got a job on a boat and, a few years later, found an opportunity to show her mother she really could put her mind to something and follow through. The twist to this fairy story is that achieving your dreams is all the sweeter when you can put the blokes in their place at the same time.