Nyad: Punch-the-air marathon swimmer biopic from Free Solo’s Oscar-winners

Annette Bening’s fierce performance is work that trumpets the arrival of awards season

Nyad: Cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who previously shot Life of Pi and Top Gun: Maverick, brings high drama to the high seas. Photograph: Liz Parkinson
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Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
Cert: 12A
Genre: Biopic
Starring: Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans, Luke Cosgrove, Jenna Yi
Running Time: 2 hrs 1 min

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the high-octane power couple behind The Rescue and Free Solo, turn their attention to narrative features with this punch-the-air biopic about the marathon swimmer Diana Nyad. Forget the tiresome quibbles about the real-life athlete’s self-aggrandisement. Working from Julia Cox’s agreeably prickly script, the Oscar-winning filmmakers revel in Nyad’s reputation as a thundering wagon. They are aided in no small way by Annette Bening’s fierce performance, work that trumpets the arrival of awards season.

If the plot of Nyad isn’t Oscar-baiting enough – a 60-year-old swimmer comes out of retirement to swim from Cuba to Miami – the trinity of turns from Bening, Jodie Foster and Rhys Ifans seals the deal. Foster twinkles as Bonnie Stoll, former lover, lifelong BF and eventual coach to Nyad as she sets out to realise her dream of becoming the first person to swim 180km in choppy, shark-infested waters.

It won’t be easy and she won’t be easy. “I don’t believe in imposed limitations,” she harrumphs.

Having abandoned her celebrated career some three decades before, Nyad struggles with troubling youthful memories, killer jellyfish and challenging weather. A first gruelling attempt fails. Then a second. Then a third. And still she keeps on swimming. “The only person who gets to decide when I’m through is me,” she insists. Her sheer bloody-mindedness wins admirers and collaborators, including Ifans’s salty navigator, Luke Cosgrove’s shark expert and Jenna Yi’s box-jellyfish boffin.


The cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who previously shot Life of Pi and Top Gun: Maverick, brings high drama to the high seas.

Chai and Chin’s documentary origins shine through in judiciously chosen archive footage: the young Nyad strolling on to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1979 is a delight; her first failed attempt, aged 28, to make it across the Straits of Florida makes one think of a more inspirational Terminator. She’ll be back.

Nyad is in cinemas from Friday, October 20th, and on Netflix from Friday, November 3rd

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic