Documentary Review – Against the Tides

Against the Tides is an astonishing documentary of one woman’s quest to swim the Oceans 7. The title is literal in a sense that she is swimming against the tides but also figurative – the tides of overcoming a debilitating condition (M.E.), a child with special needs and also familial pressures that she should stay at home and be a mother. In a way, the documentary could be called I define me.

The Oceans 7 are the most challenging seven channels of water in the world: North Channel, Catalina Channel, Molokai Channel, Cook Strait, Strait of Gibraltar, Tsugaru Strait and the English Channel.  Beth French a British, ultra- marathon open sea swimmer in 2016 decided to swim all seven in a year. Only five other people have completed this challenge and it took them an entire lifetime. Will she make it and overcome sharks – yes, tiger shark in Hawaii that had me screaming at the screen: WOMAN, get out of the water!

Documentaries need to engage the viewer and Against the Tides certainly does from the opening scenes.  However, Beth is not particularly easy to feel empathy with, after all, she’s chosen to undertake a goal which only five people have completed in their lifetimes. What is great about this documentary is that it is unflinching. I do wonder would it be different had the director been female. Yet, the gaze is unflinching perhaps for the reason that it shows us just what it takes to be an elite athlete  which she is (19 hours 5 mins to cross the Catalina channel,, there is no time for hurt feelings (the support crew whose personal sacrifices are disregarded) and everything has to be sacrificed in pursuit of the goal.

My only criticism of this documentary is there wasn’t enough time dedicated to the support crew to give their views. Also, I am not sure if any of the other five people who have completed Oceans 7 are still alive but it would have been a good balance to hear from one of them of their experience and, of course, sacrifices in completing this incredible challenge.

Is it diverse?

By their very nature documentaries are diverse because they are showing us a different viewpoint of an individual or a collective group. I liked it because it focused on a woman, not her weaknesses which she of course has but her iron determination. Interestingly I found myself becoming quite critical of her and wondering why would you risk death when you are the sole provider for a son, Dylan, who has behavioural difficulties. Then I realised would I have thought this if it was a man. This is the power of this documentary it makes you question your prejudices and preconceived ideas and must always be welcome. We only grow by being tested.

Against the Tides is a real eye opener and you the viewer will be engaged right from the very start because the drama and tension are maintained even though this is of course fact and not fiction. A documentary to show that impossible is truly nothing if you can see it, you can do it. I am certainly inspired to dust off my swimming costume and try and a bit of open water swimming but certainly nothing on the scale of Oceans 7.

Against the Tides is released in cinemas across the UK from 17 May with special previews + Q&A from 5 May


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