Vindication Swim Image

Vindication Swim

By Jason Delgado | June 12, 2024

At the age of forty-five, I’ve seen my share of societal changes. But when you think about 1927 in the ultra-oppressive land of England, it’s a whole different world. Women did not even receive the same rights as men to vote in England until the following year, in 1928.

The protagonist of writer/director Elliott Hasler’s Vindication Swim, Mercedes Gleitze, played by Kirsten Callaghan, was a real-life trailblazer in the world of endurance swimming and society at large. Gleitze became the first British woman to swim across the English Channel. Her inspiration was seeing a newsreel in the movie theater of an American woman who had made the treacherous swim herself.

We see glimpses of the hardships that Mercedes has to endure as a woman of that era, such as sexual harassment in the workplace, which must have been commonplace due to the prevailing attitude and no consequences for the men. The audience experiences Callaghan’s emotional anguish from the encounter in the next scene, which was a nice subtle touch by Hasler using the tried-and-true film method of showing instead of telling.

“…the first British woman to swim across the English Channel.”

Elliott Hasler made another interesting decision by shooting most of the movie in black and white in order to give it that authentic 1927 feel that we’re accustomed to from old-timey films. Still, the swimming scenes are shot in color by stark contrast. It helps us feel as alive and engaged as Mercedes must be during her quest to be a record holder. The swimming scenes are fantastic at providing intensity, which is much needed because the first act moves along at a slow pace. The authenticity of those scenes comes from the fact that they were shot in the English Channel itself without using any tanks, green screens, or body doubles. Kirsten Callaghan amazingly trained for months in open-water swimming prior to filming, completing all of those sequences herself without the use of stunt doubles, sometimes swimming for up to four hours at a time.

The movie’s dramatic tension comes from a woman named Edith Gade (Victoria Summer), who also claimed to swim the channel but in record time. Mercedes meets Edith at a gala event and questions the authenticity of her swim after certain things don’t add up. It comes out in the press that Edith did, in fact, fabricate her swim, so she throws Mercedes under the bus by saying, “How do we really know anyone has completed this swim?” That sets about a whole set of hearings in motion where the validity of Gleitze’s swim record is questioned.

Gleitze’s trainer, Harold Best (John Locke), tells her that the only way to prove their record now is to do it again. Best reminds me of Rocky Balboa’s trainer Mickey; he’s old, curmudgeonly, and wise. Mercedes shudders at the thought of overcoming the challenges of the ice-cold water and jellyfish again. Still, Harold pushes her with things like the original ice bucket challenge to get her body ready.

The cast does a fine job, and some of the scenic English Channel shots in Vindication Swim are exquisite. It’s cool to see the nostalgia of the look of that era with the set design and costumes, but not so much to see the attitudes towards women. Mercedes is an inspiration who showed that women can do incredible things. I only wish this movie had more about her because it only scratched the surface.

Vindication Swim (2024)

Directed and Written: Elliott Hasler

Starring: Kirsten Callaghan, Victoria Summer, John Locke, James Wilby, Douglas Hodge, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Vindication Swim Image

"…real-life trailblazer in…swimming…"

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