GB Rowing Team cox Harry Brightmore reviews The Boys in the Boat movie

The GB Rowing Team were guests at a special early screening of the film of the popular book, which will be in UK cinemas from 12 January 2024


George Clooney’s The Boys In The Boat: An Amazon MGM Studios film Photo credit: Laurie Sparham © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Rarely does the sport of rowing make it to the silver screen. Films like True Blue and The Social Network spring to mind, both showcasing students training hard for a climactic race. Similarly, The Boys in the Boat chronicles the journey to the 1936 Olympics for nine young Americans, and closely follows Joe Rantz, who grew up alone in poverty before applying to the University of Washington, leading him into the sport of rowing. As many young athletes across the globe gear up for their own Olympic dreams, this film is sure to inspire and isn’t complicated to follow.

The Seattle aesthetic is captured beautifully throughout the film. Rowing training takes place in an accurate recreation of the ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington) Shellhouse that still sits off the Montlake Cut to this day, whilst scenes of the squad running through pine trees bring the audience to the famous landscape of the American northwest. The film feels warm, sun-draped, and is coupled with a musical score that radiates valour and integrity. The rowing races do include a lot of CGI backdrops, in which eagle-eyed rowing fans will spot scenes of Henley-on-Thames imitating the American west coast duel between Washington and California. Likewise, a grandstand of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin will look familiar to those who know Molesey BC. However the accuracy of attire and the rowing equipment all meet to capture the zeitgeist of the sport in 1930s Washington.

“Rowing purists will find plenty to discuss on the training and racing scenes.”

The story itself is told a little fast. The events of the book run over years of Joe’s growth, whereas the film takes the story over one season. Professional sport has surely moved on in 90 years, however the progression is still a little steep for athletes to fully immerse themselves in the tale. Newcomers to the sport may struggle to win an Olympic gold medal in their first year. The nature of the story, however, is one that is undeniably powerful.

Callum Turner does well to create a guarded but affable Joe Rantz. He captures the struggle of someone from parentless poverty grasping the few opportunities available during the Great Depression. He is a complex character, but Turner delicately creates a balance, portraying a proud young man, intent on creating something of himself.

Rowing purists will find plenty to discuss on the training and racing scenes but Clooney does well to capture the essence of the college rowing atmosphere: community, rivalry and the balance of study with ruthless training. This is all lead by Joel Edgerton’s performance as Coach Ulbrickson. He effortlessly delivers the stereotype sports coach, seen in countless 90s movies. He initially meets his new athletes with a mysterious, gruff, strict demeanour, but is shown to be a loving husband and a caring, worried father-figure to his athletes as the story develops.

Clooney’s deep dive into the rowing world has built a heartwarming epic, but a film that has been seen before in Miracle and Chariots of Fire. The Four Minute Mile biopic of Roger Bannister pulls at similar heartstrings. Potentially this film will inspire another Joe Rantz to pick up an oar and try for the team, and it certainly sits well in the abundance of giant sporting tales.