‘Young Woman and the Sea’ swimmingly channels old-fashioned sports movies

‘Young Woman and the Sea’ swimmingly channels old-fashioned sports movies
  • PublishedJune 2, 2024

The only wrinkles in “Young Woman and the Sea” are the ones Daisy Ridley likely developed spending all that time in the water, but the movie presents such a stirring true story, so efficiently told, that really shouldn’t matter. Like Trudy Ederle swimming the English Channel, knowing where you’re going, in this case, isn’t as significant as the near-irresistible, awe-inspiring act of getting there.

Granted, the title almost sounds like the marketing department threw in the towel on anything more appealing (its echoes of Ernest Hemingway notwithstanding), except that it’s actually derived from the book, “Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World,” on which the film is based.

In addition, the movie was originally destined to premiere on Disney+, until producer Jerry Bruckheimer (and according to the trade papers, positive audience testing) prompted the studio to give it a shot in the increasingly shark-infested theatrical waters, where its future appears uncertain.

Wherever one sees it, “Young Woman” possesses plenty of old-school charms, reflecting a triumph of the human spirit and endurance that (aided significantly by Amelia Warner’s musical score) buoys the soul. In that regard it joins a long list of classic sports movies, perhaps even more than its recent cousins, the swim-themed Netflix film “Nyad” and George Clooney’s Olympic tale “The Boys in the Boat.”

Jeanette Hain, Daisy Ridley and Kim Bodnia in "Young Woman and the Sea."

Jeanette Hain, Daisy Ridley and Kim Bodnia in “Young Woman and the Sea.” Vladisav Lepoev/Disney Enterprises

Ridley has stayed busy in smaller films since her high-profile “Star Wars” stint, but few that showcase her innate likability better than this one. Then again, it’s hard not to root for Trudy, born to German immigrant parents, who overcame measles as a child and the “old ways” insisted upon by her father (“Killing Eve’s” Kim Bodnia) to become an Olympic-caliber swimmer, competing in the 1924 Games before undertaking the grueling 21-mile swim of the English Channel two years later.

Ederle faced formidable tides in and out of the water, the latter in the form of overt sexism, offset by her steely mom (Jeanette Hain), supportive sister (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who played Helen Reddy in “I Am Woman”) and demanding coach (Sian Clifford), as well as another swimmer (Stephen Graham) who recognizes her grit and potential.

Norwegian director Joachim Rønning (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”) and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (2019’s “The Lion King”) both have Disney credentials, but “Young Woman and the Sea” possesses the throwback feel of live-action fare that flourished long before fretting about theatrical windows became an overriding concern.

The inevitable closing crawl and old newsreel footage merely adds heft to the story, in a way that feels a bit timelier 100 years after Ederle competed in the Olympics.

Whether destined for consumption in a theater or via streaming, “Young Woman and the Sea” is an exercise in the simple power of a well-told story, the kind that can wash over and uplift you all at once.


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