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

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

When you’ve been through 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’s what happened to one of Britain’s forgotten sports heroines, Mercedes Gleitze.

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

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

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

Kirsten Callaghan as Miss Gleitze

Kirsten Callaghan as Miss Gleitze

Victoria Summer plays Edith Grade

Victoria Summer plays Edith Grade

Pictured: Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan plays 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 was nearly run over by a steamer, had received grapes, honey, cocoa and tea from the lonely rowboat that accompanied her. However, she had little time to enjoy her fame.

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

So just two weeks later, Miss Gleitze returned to the chilly Canal waters in an attempt to reclaim her place in the history books.

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

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

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

Mercedes Gleitze (pictured) was the first British woman to swim across 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.

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

Fearing that her eight-try achievement would not be believed either, Miss Gleitze returned to Cap Gris-Nez in France. Her ‘justification 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 go on many endurance swims later on.

Miss Callaghan trained at sea for the role for three months. She told vacation company Swim Trek, ‘When Mercedes decided she wanted to be an open water swimmer, she was not the’ Muscle Mercedes’ she later got nicknamed … but a London typist struggling with bouts of bronchitis … [it] taught me that whatever you do, approach it with courage, passion and persistence. ‘

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

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