@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 15 Mar 2019
“What it takes to sail around the world; you have to be a little bit crazy.” These words, which echo over mesmerising visuals of the ocean as its waves churn beneath a blue sky, are certainly true and serve as an apt introduction to Maiden. However, if there’s one thing to be gleaned from Alex Holmes’ powerful documentary about the first all-women sailing team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World race in 1989, is that it takes a lot more than just that.
It takes tenacity, gumption and a lot of sheer bloody-mindedness, especially to do so in such a toxic, male-dominated sport that sailing was in the late 1980s. As one individual told Tracy Edwards, the eventual Skipper of Maiden, when she asked to serve as a cook on his yacht: “Girls are for screwing when you get into port.” The struggle faced by the team is sadly not all that dissimilar to the criticisms many female athletes still endure today, which is what makes Maiden such a pertinent and necessary documentary 30 years on from the race.
The story of Edward’s fight to take part in the competition, and of Maiden’s voyage around the world, is exhilarating and utterly enthralling. Holmes’ mixture of interviews with the team and a few select pundits, interspersed with home-video footage filmed by the crew onboard the yacht is key to the film’s success. It provides an insight into the conditions and difficulties that the crew had to overcome in order to achieve their goal in a manner that would otherwise seem unbelievable.
It is this footage that also serves to highlight how little has actually changed in the 30 years since the team took part in the race. It is frustrating to watch the pundits and fellow skippers who initially rejected the team for being a bunch of ‘girls’ show little remorse for their misogyny, with one pundit brushing off calling the team “a tin full of tarts” as being a fitting description at the time. As frustrating as it is, however, it highlights that the fight for equality within a sport, let alone society at large, cannot be solved with one boat race; but it is certainly putting the right foot forward.
There is little to criticise in a documentary as enjoyable and inspiring as Maiden, except for the heavy focus on Tracy Edwards. This is certainly not unwarranted, as she was the woman who put the entire venture together and led the team to their accomplishments, although more time could have been spent on her team as well. This is minor, however, in what is ultimately a moving documentary that showcases the talent and bravery of a group of truly heroic women.