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A Movie Worth Watching: “Young Woman and the Sea”

By Philip R. Devlin

(June 11, 2024) — As I started the competitive swimming program at Haddam-Killingworth High School nearly 50 years ago, and coached it for 34 years, I was naturally interested in seeing a recently released movie centered around a swimming phenom named Gertrude Ederle. In 1926, Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel.

The new movie is a biopic entitled “Young Woman and the Sea.” It was released for limited viewing on May 31, 2024, and is based upon a book of the same name. It is hard to overestimate the real world implications of Ederle’s achievement.

First, though it may be hard to believe, most people in the 1920’s believed that sports were inappropriate for women and actually dangerous to their health. Thus, there were few opportunities for women to play sports, but the times were changing.

Having finally been granted the right to vote in 1920, more opportunities for women began to be available throughout the decade, although often with a great deal of resistance. Besides that resistance, Trudy Ederle had other barriers in her path. (1) A father who initially opposed her participation. (2) An “old-school” marriage arrangement. (3) Mediocre facilities for women. (4) Unwilling sponsors. (5) Neglectful, jealous coaches. (6) A bout with measles that nearly killed her and left her with a lifelong hearing deficit.

Ederle’s courage and dogged determination to overcome these challenges is simply astounding. The viewer can’t help but be left in awe of her. British actress Daisy Ridley (of Star Trek trilogy fame) does a magnificent job in portraying the intrepid Ederle. Ridley, as it turns out, knew very little about how to swim and trained diligently for more than three months to develop a good bent elbow crawl stroke; in fact, Director Joachim Ronning later stated that Ridley’s stroke became so proficient that he rarely used a stunt double in the film! This former coach can see why.

The supporting cast is very good in this film, especially Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Trudy’s sister, Meg. Their close relationship is very interesting. Jeanette Hain does a commendable job as Trudy’s mom, whose loss of her twin sister at age seven to drowning in their German homeland goes a long way toward explaining the value she placed on having her children learn to swim. The other character that I found particularly interesting was Bill Burgess, played by Stephen Graham. Though not built at all like a swimmer, Burgess succeeded in swimming the Channel himself and is a source of both humor and inspiration in the movie, as he coaches Ederle to her success.

The end of the movie weaves in actual archival newsreel footage of Ederle’s tickertape parade along the “Canyon of Heroes” in New York City in 1926 (photo above). It is estimated that more than two million were present at that tickertape parade—the largest to date in history! Yes, it was larger than the Lindbergh parade, the Eisenhower victory parade after World War II, and all of the various parades for astronauts.

Gertrude Ederle was an uncomfortable hero. She shunned publicity and did not cash in on all of the numerous offers that came her way, preferring to lead a simple life teaching deaf children how to swim. This truly remarkable athlete died in 2003 at the age of 98. “Young Woman and the Sea” is a film very much worth viewing. It currently plays at limited times both at the giant AMC movie theaters in Plainville and at the Buckland Mall theaters in Manchester. It’s uplifting and terrific! Go see it!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Images provided by Philip Devlin from Wikipedia
Image #1: Bundesarchiv Bild 102-10212, Gertrud Ederle.jpg
Image #2: Public Domain

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