Watching Maiden, I experienced a wide range of emotions - fascination, horror, admiration, frustration, rage, relief and pride to name but seven. There were moments when I just wanted to punch something and moments when I couldn’t stop the happy tears from falling.
Alex Holmes’s documentary tells the epic story of how in 1989 Tracy Edwards became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race. This is an inspirational tale of strength in the face of adversity - both on land and at sea.
Maiden begins with huge rolling waves. Monstrous, breathtaking waves. Voice-over narration tells us that the ocean is always trying to kill you and that, in certain locations, if anything happens you are completely on your own.
In these effective opening scenes, Holmes shows us what round the world sailors have to contend with - it is sobering to say the least. Not since Free Solo have I felt so anxious whilst watching a documentary.
Thankfully, we are then given a respite as Maiden moves on land to tell us Tracy Edwards’s life story - from her idyllic early childhood where she was inspired by her independent mother, to her troubled teenage years where she was suspended from school 26 times before finally being expelled.
Unable to find her place in the world and seeking escape, Edwards found herself aboard a boat. It was here that she finally felt at home and it was here that she found out about the Whitbread race - a discovery that would change her life forever.
Thanks to bountiful archive footage, we get a real sense of Edwards at the time she decided to gather an all-female crew and endeavour to sail around the world. She is focused, determined, single minded and uncompromising.
Good job too as we understand just what a mountain she has to climb - including buying a boat, getting sponsorship and recruiting a team. However, perhaps the toughest challenge that Edwards faced was not down to her sailing skills, organisation or expertise… it was down to her gender.
Every step of her journey towards the Whitbread race was accompanied by incredibly, unapologetically blatant sexism. The way Edwards and her female crew - all smart, strong, independent and incredibly capable women - were treated is nothing short of disgusting.
It made me so angry (hence the need to punch something). Yes, the events that Maiden depicts took place in 1989. Yes, the world has come a long way since then. No, that doesn’t excuse this behaviour.
Holmes has good reason for including footage of the sexism that the Maiden crew faced. The more they were belittled, the more we will them on… the results are, of course, a matter of history and yet the tension and suspense is nonetheless electric.
In addition to the discrimination, Edwards had to grapple with her inner demons and the incredibly dangerous conditions at sea. Maiden never lets us forget the risks that the sailors take to compete in the Whitbread race.
In case you don’t know how this story ends, I won’t spoil it for you here. However, regardless of whether you remember the conclusion of this event or not, the final act of Holmes’s documentary is an absolute joy.
Have tissues at the ready… you will need them.