“Nothing great is easy.” So said Captain Webb about his historic first crossing of the Channel in 1875. On August 15 a new film telling his story, Captain Webb, will be released into cinemas. Whether it is a great film remains to be seen, but it is bound to be the hottest ticket in town for Channel and open water swimmers.
The film stars Warren Brown as Webb, while Terry Mynott plays his American rival, Captain Paul Boyton. Steve Oram plays Webb’s coach, a self-proclaimed ‘swimming professor’ whose star turn was smoking underwater. The soundtrack is aptly provided by British Sea Power.
Director Justin Hardy said: “Captain Webb is a largely forgotten British hero. He attempted to swim the English Channel when the very idea was seen as beyond impossible, equipped only with his moustache, doses of Brandy and a wire wool swimsuit.”
It is uncertain whether Webb’s wire wool swimsuit would have complied with Channel rules, but his rival Boyton’s suit definitely wouldn’t have: in an early occurrence of the suits vs skins debate, Boyton swam in a kayak-like ‘immersion suit’ made of rubber. Unfortunately the Channel Swimming Association was not around to verify the swim, as it wasn’t founded for another 52 years.
It took Webb almost 22 hours to swim 39 miles from Dover to France. The retired merchant seaman survived fierce winds, treacherous currents and multiple jellyfish stings. The Channel would not be swum again for 36 years, and to this day more people have climbed Everest than successfully swum across the Channel.
The film is executive produced by James Salter for Marathon Films. Salter has swum the English Channel multiple times, including a world record crossing in September last year when he completed the swim with his 17-year old son.