New movie tells 1920s saga of women who competed to swim the Channel

Battle of the beach belles: New movie tells 1920s saga of two women who competed to swim the Channel

When you have endured 15 hours of cold and exhaustion to set a record, the last thing you want is a rival trying to steal your glory.

But that is what happened to one of Britain’s forgotten sporting heroines, Mercedes Gleitze.

She came ashore barely conscious at St Margaret’s Bay, near Dover, on October 7, 1927 as the first British woman to swim the Channel.

Vindication Swim tells of the rivalry between Mercedes Gleitze and Edith Gade who competed for the fastest time for a woman to complete a swim across the English Channel in the 1920s


Pictured: The film stars Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan as Miss Gleitze (left) and Victoria Summer (right) – who played Julie Andrews in Saving Mr Banks – as her rival Edith Gade

The 26-year-old typist, who had nearly been run down by a steamer, had been fed grapes, honey, cocoa and tea from the lone rowing boat accompanying her. She had little time to enjoy her fame, however.

Within four days another British woman claimed she, too, had completed the swim – in a time more than two hours faster. There were even pictures of her sipping champagne at the finish.

So just two weeks later, Miss Gleitze got back in the chilly Channel waters in a bid to reclaim her place in the history books.

The story of their rivalry is the subject of a film, Vindication Swim, being shot on the East Sussex coast.

Mercedes Gleitze (pictured) was the first British woman to swim the English Channel

It stars Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan as Miss Gleitze and Victoria Summer – who played Julie Andrews in Saving Mr Banks – as her rival Edith Gade.

The character of Miss Gade is based on Dorothy Cochrane Logan, whose ‘swim’ was eventually revealed as a hoax.

Fearing her feat, which took eight attempts, would also be disbelieved, Miss Gleitze returned to Cap Gris-Nez in France. Her ‘vindication swim’, watched by boatloads of journalists, ended in failure.

But it made her so famous that Rolex named a watch after her and she would later complete many endurance swims.

Miss Callaghan trained in the sea for three months for the role. She told holiday firm Swim Trek: ‘When Mercedes decided she wanted to become an open water swimmer she wasn’t the “Muscle Mercedes” she went on to be nicknamed… but a London typist who was struggling with bouts of bronchitis… [it] has taught me that whatever you choose to do, you must approach it with bravery, passion and perseverance.’

The film, directed by Elliott Hasler, 20, has just resumed shooting on Hove beach after two breaks due to the pandemic.

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