Home Entertainment Kirsten Callaghan, who plays the first British woman to swim the English Channel in a new film, reveals she was left “traumatised” after having to learn to swim in freezing water and battle seasickness, seaweed and eels.

Kirsten Callaghan, who plays the first British woman to swim the English Channel in a new film, reveals she was left “traumatised” after having to learn to swim in freezing water and battle seasickness, seaweed and eels.

by Merry
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Kirsten Callaghan, playing the first British woman to swim across the English Channel, was traumatized after having to learn to swim long distances in icy water, battling motion sickness, seaweed and eels. Ms Callaghan appears in a photo shoot for Vindication Swim

For most acting stars, learning how to ride a horse, fence, or a new accent for a movie role is probably as difficult as it gets.

But actress Kirsten Callaghan, who played the first British woman to swim the English Channel, left her traumatized after she had to learn to swim long distances in icy waters, battling seasickness, algae and eels.

The newcomer, 32, underwent three months of grueling resistance training at Brighton Pier and pushed her body to the limits to play Mercedes Gleitze in the upcoming film Vindication Swim.

He spent the next two years filming in the frigid waters of East Sussex without a body double or any camera tricks, the physicality of which he found “tough”.

Educated at Rose Bruford College, Mrs Callaghan was a relative unknown with a string of theater credits to her name when she was cast as Mrs Gleitze, who made history in 1927 when her eighth attempt to swim the Channel finally paid off.

Kirsten Callaghan, playing the first British woman to swim across the English Channel, was traumatized after having to learn to swim long distances in icy water, battling motion sickness, seaweed and eels. Ms Callaghan appears in a photo shoot for Vindication Swim

Kirsten Callaghan, playing the first British woman to swim across the English Channel, was traumatized after having to learn to swim long distances in icy water, battling motion sickness, seaweed and eels. Ms Callaghan appears in a photo shoot for Vindication Swim

Callaghan, 32, underwent three months of grueling resistance training at Brighton Pier and pushed her body to the limits to play Mercedes Gleitze (pictured) in the upcoming film Vindication Swim.

Callaghan, 32, underwent three months of grueling resistance training at Brighton Pier and pushed her body to the limits to play Mercedes Gleitze (pictured) in the upcoming film Vindication Swim.

Callaghan, 32, underwent three months of grueling resistance training at Brighton Pier and pushed her body to the limits to play Mercedes Gleitze (pictured) in the upcoming film Vindication Swim.

In his bid for authenticity, writer-director Elliott Hasler sought to cast an actress who looked like Ms. Gleitze, was born in Brighton like her, and was already a strong swimmer.

Ms Callaghan, who lives in Hove with her French bulldog Reuben, fit the bill and became a producer on the film alongside Ronnie Wood’s wife Sally, as well as writing the theme song.

“It was tough, I suffered bad cramps on very cold days, there was a time when I was almost knocked over by a huge mound of seaweed two miles away,” he said.

“The boatmen suffered severe seasickness and when it was difficult for me I said to myself: ‘What would Mercedes do?’ and she always said, ‘She would move on,’ because she was very calm, very pragmatic.”

“Although I am clearly traumatized by the cold, cramps and dizziness (thank you Mercedes), I am infinitely grateful to have played such an extraordinary woman,” the actress wrote on her Instagram account.

Despite being a strong swimmer, Callaghan quickly realized that open water swimming was a completely different beast and forced herself to endure cold showers to prepare.

“I’ve always been a strong swimmer, but open water swimming was a new challenge for me and I took cold showers to adapt to the low temperatures,” she told Sussex Life.

Ms Callaghan, pictured at the premiere of Vindication Swim last week, spent the next two years filming in the freezing waters of East Sussex without a body double or any camera tricks, the physicality of which she found “harsh”.

Victoria Summer (left) and Kirsten Callaghan (right) film Vindication Swim on April 7, 2021 in Brighton. Callaghan, who stars alongside Summer as her rival, said she enjoyed starring in a period piece that didn't involve a love story with a man.

Victoria Summer (left) and Kirsten Callaghan (right) film Vindication Swim on April 7, 2021 in Brighton. Callaghan, who stars alongside Summer as her rival, said she enjoyed starring in a period piece that didn't involve a love story with a man.

Victoria Summer (left) and Kirsten Callaghan (right) film Vindication Swim on April 7, 2021 in Brighton. Callaghan, who stars alongside Summer as her rival, said she enjoyed starring in a period piece that didn’t involve a love story with a man.

Victoria Summer and David Aitchison film scenes for Vindication Swim on Brighton beach on April 6, 2021

Victoria Summer and David Aitchison film scenes for Vindication Swim on Brighton beach on April 6, 2021

Victoria Summer and David Aitchison film scenes for Vindication Swim on Brighton beach on April 6, 2021

“My swimming coach worked on my technique in the pool and then we swam around Brighton Palace Pier to build my stamina, allowing me to swim for long periods of time in front of the camera.”

He added: “During filming I experienced extreme weather changes, marine life and freezing temperatures.

“There have been a couple of times where I’ve suffered painful cramps and the dreaded claw, when your hands involuntarily curl inward from the cold, but that’s all been part of the process.”

The film, released next Friday, tells the moving story of the forgotten sporting heroine’s record-breaking swim that saw her emerge, barely conscious, from the water in St Margaret’s Bay, near Dover, on October 8, 1927.

The young typist, then 27 years old, had traveled accompanied only by a rowboat and was almost run over by a steamboat while swimming.

But the real drama began when another woman, Dorothy Cochrane Logan, showed up four days later and claimed to have completed the swim first.

While she was later revealed to be a fake, Ms. Gleitze’s victory was undermined by the claim and she embarked on a “claiming swim” to prove her worth.

The water was too cold for her to complete the swim, but she convinced her skeptics that her original record should stand and became a national celebrity.

A committed philanthropist, who donated much of her earnings to a homeless shelter, died in relative obscurity having distanced herself from her achievements.

Sally Wood, Victoria Summer, Kirsten Callaghan and Ronnie Wood at the Vindication Swim film premiere in London last week.

Sally Wood, Victoria Summer, Kirsten Callaghan and Ronnie Wood at the Vindication Swim film premiere in London last week.

Sally Wood, Victoria Summer, Kirsten Callaghan and Ronnie Wood at the Vindication Swim film premiere in London last week.

“I spent a lot of time with her, but she never talked to me about swimming,” said her grandson Andrew Pember.

“She never talked to me about swimming at all; in fact, she lied about the fact that she was a swimmer to the neighbors she lived with.”

He added: “It was ridiculous because it was obvious who she was, but she denied it because she didn’t want that life anymore.”

Callaghan, who stars alongside Victoria Summer as her rival, said she enjoyed starring in a period piece that didn’t involve a love story with a man.

“Usually in a period drama there is a love story involving a man, however in Vindication Swim the love story is between Glietze and the sea,” he said.

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