A woman overlooks the ocean.

Film Review: Young Woman and the Sea


Young Woman and The Sea
Director: Joachim Rønning
Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films
In Theaters: 05.31

It’s hard to deny that Disney has been in a bit of a slump, with even their most reliable franchises seriously underperforming, being met with weak reviews and unenthusiastic audience responses. They needed a winner, and Young Woman and the Sea is practically the definition of a winner.

Young Woman and the Sea is the fact-based story of Trudy Ederle, the second daughter of German immigrants living in New York City in the 1910s. As a child, Trudy (Olive Abercrombie, The Haunting of Hill House) battles a bad case of the measles that could be fatal (these were the good ol’ days of freedom when we didn’t have vaccines shoved in our faces are were free to suffer and die for no reason like real Americans). Trudy beats the measles, and defies all odds to grow into Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). When Trudy and her sister, Meg (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Hotel Mumbai) learn to swim, Trudy overcomes her initial awkwardness and pushes herself to excel at the sport. Armed with an indomitable spirit and the unwavering support of Meg, and their mother, Gertrud (Jeannette Hain, The Reader, The Young Victoria). Trudy even wins a spot on the 1924 Olympic swimming team, and though she returns home empty handed, she soon latches onto a new, even greaterdream: to become the first women to undertake a 21-mile swim across the English Channel. 

The Young Woman and the Sea is a gripping and beautifully made family film that is likely to stand as the most pleasant surprise of the summer. Director Joachim Rønning (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) has a strong feel for the style of the old-fashioned Disney inspirational sports movie, and shows a great deal of visual flair. The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal) is full of richly drawn characters and dialogue and packs a powerful message about the oppressive fear of female equality in a male-dominated society. It lets the obvious parallels to modern times reveal themselves rather than spoon feed them to the audience. While the movie is heavily fictionalize—this is a Disney summer treat, not Oscar bait—it hits the most important points of the story accurately enough, and it’s such a moving and rousingly entertaining film that it’s hard complain about much of anything in it. 

Ridley, who also served as an executive producer, has struggled to find a strong vehicle outside of Star Wars, and it’s great to see her in a role that fits her like a glove, allowing her considerable star quality to light up the screen. Cobham-Harvey is wonderfully endearing as the loving older sister, and the relationship between Trudy and Meg is touching enough that I teared up more than once. Hain and Kim Bodnia (Killing Eve) bring a lot of life and realism to Trudy’s parents, while Sian Clifford (Fleabag) and Stephen Graham (The Irishman)  are scene stealers as Charlotte, Trudy’s first swimming teacher, and Bill Burgess, the coach who helps Trudy in her historic swim. Christopher Eccleston (Elizabeth, Doctor Who) makes for a deliciously infuriating antagonist as Jabez Wolfe, a pompous Scottish swimmer who is tapped by Trudy’s sponsors to serve as her coach, even though he has no desire to see a young woman complete the swim that he never managed in 22 attempts.

Young Woman and The Sea is the perfect argument against the frequently uttered complaint that “They don’t make movies like they used to,” and it’s not just suitable for everyone, it’s a movie that you genuinely need to take your kids to see. They’ll walk away from it entertained, uplifted and with something to think about that just might inspire them to grow up to be better people. –Patrick Gibbs 

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