Star Wars' Daisy Ridley talks her new, inspirational sports movie: "It's been 100 years – many of us did not know of Trudy Ederle before"

Young Woman and the Sea
(Image credit: Disney)

"Go to England, or die trying." So says Daisy Ridley's Trudy Ederle in Young Woman and the Sea, a rousing, moving tale chronicling the true story of the first woman to swim the English Channel. In her quest to cross that dangerous stretch of water, Trudy goes up against leaky goggles, sexist gatekeepers, and jellyfish stings. It's no easy task. 

You'd be forgiven, though, for never having heard of Trudy Ederle. She successfully swam the Channel way back in 1926, and her memory has faded over time. Young Woman and the Sea, however, is out to change that. 

"When I read Jeff Nathanson's amazing script, almost 10 years ago, now, actually – it's taken us almost 10 years to be here – I was baffled that I didn't know the story," director Joachim Rønning tells us when we meet in London. "Because it was such a big world event when it happened and probably changed women's sports forever in many ways. So that was the first thing that struck me, and almost feeling an urgency, or an obligation. I wanted to tell this story to my daughters, to a modern audience, and somehow put Trudy back on the map. And that was a huge inspiration in itself."


Shining a light on the under-the-radar theatrical releases that you need to know about, with a new article every Friday

Ridley, who plays Trudy with unflagging optimism and dogged determination, is also surprised that the swimmer's name has been lost to time. "It's been 100 years, many of us did not know of Trudy before," she says. "So it's wonderful to be honoring her. And it's one of those great timing things where Jerry [Bruckheimer, producer] had been trying to make the film from nine years ago, so all the timing had to be right. And it feels wonderful that the Paris Olympics are coming up, and we're having so many more conversations about visibility in women's sport."

"We've done this a lot, where we take individuals that got lost in time," says Bruckheimer. "She was the first woman to swim the English Channel. Only five men had done it before. Not only did she swim it, she beat the men's record by two hours. Just think about that. And she's forgotten. So you want individuals like this to inspire other people, especially women. And that's why we made the movie. We'd done it before, we did it with Glory Road, with Remember the Titans, with Black Hawk Down, with Veronica Guerin, with Dangerous Minds. All of those are about individuals that should not be forgotten and were forgotten. You're not going to forget about these characters anymore."

Queen of the Waves 

Young Woman and the Sea

(Image credit: Disney)

But while Trudy is at home in the water, Ridley did not quite feel the same during production. In true Trudy Ederle spirit, though, she didn't let that stop her. "I was very honest very early on, I said, 'Listen, I really want to film this as real as possible out in the ocean, and all of that out in the open water,'" Rønning says. "And she [said], 'Yeah, let's do it. That's amazing. This story deserves it.' And then later on, I learned that she's actually scared to death about swimming in the open water, but she had to overcome that. And she trained for months, open water swimming, and we got out there." 

Much of the climax of the film sees Ridley's Trudy swimming alone in the sea, a tiny speck in a vast ocean. "I had not practiced that per se, we had been training in a pool for some many months. But the reality of being plopped in the Black Sea, and the safety boats going away, and then starting to swim and trying to keep pace with the Alsace [boat] and trying to keep within focus of the camera, there was so much to think about," Ridley recalls. "If I had to do that for myself, I would never. I do not like open water. But playing someone who it was their love is such an interesting thing, because I had to just squash all of my worries and then do the thing." 

So what was it like watching Ridley gain her confidence in the open water? "Answered prayers to the movie gods!" Rønning laughs. "Her stamina and her will – it's a very physical role, and very few can do that. And delivering lines, and being out there: I can't do it. I just felt lucky to have a camera on her. I'm watching the monitor, and I'm seeing what she's doing, and it's such a rush to feel that you're capturing history like that." 

Young Woman and the Sea was originally intended for a streaming-only release, but it's available to watch now in select UK cinemas – which means you'll feel more of the ocean's awesome power. "This was made for streaming, yet it turned out so well. It's the highest testing movie I've ever made," says Bruckheimer, a prolific producer on films like Top Gun and Pirates of the Caribbean. "I've made some pretty big hits. So, you want to see this expansive ocean. You want to hear it. You want to be in the theater, you want to hear people laugh with you, and cry with you, and applaud with you. It's that kind of movie. It's a real audience movie." 

Young Woman and the Sea

(Image credit: Disney)

Indeed, the sea is a powerful force in the film – at once a dangerous space and a place where Trudy finds belonging and refuge; outside of the waves, the only thing awaiting her is a future working in the family shop with an arranged marriage, which holds no appeal. "I grew up by the ocean and I'm drawn to it," says Rønning. "Its beauty, its dangers. It's a little bit of a cliché to say that, but it's a character in the movie, definitely. And it symbolizes Trudy's obstacles and what she has to overcome."

As Bruckheimer tells it, too, the sea was consistently the biggest challenge in filming the movie. "It's always the water," he says. "You can be out on that boat and you'll have four seasons in one day. It'll be sunny. It'll be rainy. It'll be stormy. It'll be beautiful. And so you have to overcome that, and you have to give yourself enough time to get it right."

Ain't we got fun

Young Woman and the Sea

(Image credit: Disney)

Trudy's story, then, is one of overcoming hardship and adversity (including behind the scenes) – from surviving a near-deadly bout of measles as a youngster to dealing with a bitter trainer intent on sabotaging her to enduring the capricious force of the ocean itself, Trudy had a lot to deal with. 

"The response from people has been really wonderful, in people going, 'I want to swim. I want to try swimming,' or, 'Oh, there was this thing that I wanted to try and I didn't feel before like maybe I could, and now I can,'" Ridley says of how playing Trudy has inspired her in turn. "So being in amongst that conversation is really wonderful. Getting to play her was so joyful, and the way she overcomes things is so straightforward personally – what she has to do is not straightforward. But she is so focused that it's amazing getting into that mindset and doing it with grace, and not for ego's sake. She's doing it because she loves it. And she was told she can't, and she wants to do more. Keeping focused, but also letting the joy in, and celebrating all the people around me is something I already did, but it's certainly something that she made me think about." 

"Making this film has not been easy," says Rønning. "For me, this movie is about fighting for what you believe in, and that's what we all did for this film. We really believed in the film, we believed in the story, and we believed in Trudy, and she's been forgotten in time and we wanted to retell her story – we all [did], Jerry Bruckheimer, Daisy Ridley, everybody, and Disney let us do it. But it took us 10 years, so it's kind of an echo of Trudy. We're not risking our lives doing this like Trudy did, but I think her story has inspired me, like I hope it will inspire everyone that sees it." Trudy Ederle, then, is not a name anyone is likely to forget again. 

Young Woman and the Sea is out in select UK cinemas now. You can read more from our interviews with Ridley teasing her Star Wars comeback as Rey, Rønning talking about wrapping Tron: Ares, and Bruckheimer giving an update on Top Gun 3 through the links. 

For more on what else you should be watching at the cinema, be sure to check out the rest of our Big Screen Spotlight series.  

Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.