The biopic about 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson who circumnavigated the globe, unassisted without any stops, is arguably one of the greatest individual feats in history
Story: Young Jessica Watson (Teegan Croft) decides to travel across the globe on her boat to break the world record to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe on a non-stop voyage unassisted. Apart from the overwhelming odds she has to face in the ocean, she must also overcome media scrutiny.
Review: Jessica Watson’s attempt to journey from Sydney Harbour in 2009, to across the globe, and back home again is something that may not sound too daunting when compared to scaling Mount Everest for instance. But the film True Spirit perfectly captures why her journey is equally challenging, if not more. The first major obstacle facing her before she embarks on her adventure is the media scrutiny and the uproar by the general public.
Director Sarah Spillane has imbued the film with heartfelt moments, and the narrative is essentially a breezy slow burner. However, it does feature a few nail-biting moments that will keep the audience invested in Jessica’s voyage. Teegan Croft, who is best known for playing the role of DC superhero Raven in Titans, slips into the role of Jessica with aplomb. Anna Paquin, a superhero herself (Rogue from X-Men), delivers a standout performance as Jessica’s supportive mother.
Through Paquin’s character, the film subtly explores whether it was Jessica’s dream or whether the idea of this was a shared dream between mother and daughter. Josh Lawson’s portrayal of Jessica's father, captures the angst of a conflicted father who is reluctant to send his daughter on a dangerous journey, but who is also unwilling to stand in the way of her life-long ambition. Cliff Curtis as Jessica’s mentor Ben Bryant is another integral character in the story. However, unlike most of the other characters in the film, Bryant is not a real person, but a symbolic representation of the people who mentored her — most notably the renowned Australian sailors, Don McIntyre and Bruce Arms.
The most pertinent question the film poses is whether a parent would be willing to send their 16-year-old daughter on a journey that has taken the lives of even the most seasoned veterans. These aspects become more profound over the course of Jessica’s journey as she endures impossible odds such as horrifying storms with waves over 70 feet tall, and days without wind where she is stuck in the middle of nowhere. The narrative focuses on the grim reality of being alone for nearly 210 days in the vast wide oceans of the world.
The film is not without its faults, but the ending is wonderfully crafted which elevates the entire viewing experience. The final scenes feature 80,000 Australians waiting at the Sydney Harbour to welcome Jessica back home. The music and structure of the narrative bring a sense of joy that some biopics of a similar mould have been unable to capture in the past. The documentary, Untold: Race of the Century, on 1983’s America’s Cup where an Australian team broke a 132-year winning streak of the Americans is among the very few films or TV shows that resonate with a similar feeling of overwhelming joy.
Verdict: As the title suggests True Spirit is an incredible story of a young girl’s spirit, determination, and incredible courage to overcome insurmountable odds to beat a world record. The word ‘inspirational’ is often recklessly used to describe a story of underdogs on their quest to greatness, but for True Spirit, based on the true story of Jessica Watson, the word does not do enough justice.