Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Alex Holmes' documentary is brilliant." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Maiden is not just about Tracy Edwards, skipper of the titular yacht, but is a force of nature who fills the screen as much as the sails.

It's an improbable story, and a good one - all the more so because it's true.

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You may be familiar with the (then) Whitbread round the world race - now The Ocean Race. It's had other sponsors in the interim including Volvo, but in the 47 years it's taken countless boats and hundreds of men from Portsmouth to the South Pole and back. Hundreds of men, and in one year just five women.

That inspired Tracy to get a boat, to put together a crew, and do it herself. Inspired being the operative word, because Alex Holmes' documentary is brilliant. He's no stranger to sporting tales, including the revelations of Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story. Here the most common performance enhancer appears to be tea - though there's plenty of champagne too, not to mention bacon.

Tracy loves sailing. Film can only convey so much, but in a transition from cook to captain with mortgages and royal connections there would seem to be no drive greater than hers. Sails open, hurtling along, buoyed and pushed by a force of nature. It's not her story alone, however - there are interviews with her crew, her competitors, the commentators from the surprisingly populous world of yachting journalism. There's some discussion of feminism (the vessel Maiden is now sailing for charity to support girls' education) and Edwards' buccaneering ways and smile are captivating. There's also some remarkable honesty - warm-up races and flaring tempers, broken limbs and empty pockets, ice-storms and unbridled chauvinism. It's to their credit that some of those who passed comment at the time were willing to appear to discuss what they'd said at the time - indeed, in Q&A at 2019's Glasgow Film Festival Tracy paid them credit for appearing. I don't think even with the benefit of decades of hindsight and social progress I'd be as willing to defend describing Maiden as "a tinful of tarts" - suffice to say there are only slightly fewer dinosaurs on display than in Jurassic World.

Sexism is far from the only obstacle in round the world yacht-racing, and chronological distance (Maiden sailed in '89) does not make documentary easy. Yet Maiden is well served by archive footage - in a role now known as 'On Board Reporter' the yacht had a video camera and the constant casual capture gives a great sense of life aboard, and serves as contrast to moments of drama - RAF flypasts, the storms of the Southern Ocean, and in a multi-legged race the sense of history unfolding chapter by chapter. Much of the footage was captured by Jo Gooding and Tanja Visser and it's striking.

This is stirring stuff, full of detail captured by archive footage. Even small things, like hotel pens at an on-board briefing convey just how narrow the margins were for this adventure. It's remarkable in its honesty - at Q&A Tracy said that she'd seen it before but she "cries every time," and told a story about getting the call from Alex about the documentary. As he approached the crew they each phoned her and as crew-mate Sally Hunter (also present) asked "how honest are we being?" Asked if anything was left out, the two attending gave three answers - "yes", "probably", "you'll never know." I have only two rules for documentary - find an interesting subject, and tell the story well. Either one will suffice, but both make it good. This is definitely in the latter camp. Though simply structured, the mixture of interview and archive works well to tell the story, and the passion of its primary subject is palpable.

There are obvious comparisons to things like the Frank Williams story - it was the late Eighties, so everything has tobacco sponsorship - and the search for funds makes strange bed-fellows. Maiden has been recovered and relaunched in part by crowd-funding, and she's on her way around the world again. You should, if you can, take the opportunity to join her. You'll be more than carried along.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2019
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The incredible, against-all-odds story of sailor Tracy Edwards, who skippered the first all-female international crew in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.

Director: Alex Holmes

Starring: Tracy Edwards

Year: 2018

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK

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