It’s a real-life story. The remarkable thing here is that the team was made up of poor students, as opposed to middle-class and upper-class students in other universities teams.
Clooney focuses on Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) who joins the team to get money to pursue his studies. He, along with some of the other lads on the team, has hardly enough money to buy food and wears boots with holes in them. He was abandoned by his father at 14 and has managed to pursue his studies and become a person of worth.
The elderly boat builder, George Pocock (Peter Guiness), takes him under his wing when Joe expresses an interest in boat building. George encourages Joe to continue when the young man wants to quit at one point.
The other role model for Joe is Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) the hard-driving coach who understands the students but pushes his working-class crew to the very limit of their abilities. He picks them for the US Olympic team in spite of efforts to undermine them and get a more prosperous University to enter.
All the boys have individual characteristics, and we learn a little about most of the 8-man (plus substitute) crew. Although the emphasis is on Joe, the others played by Sam Strike, Thomas Elms, Jack Mulhern, Luke Slattery, Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Wil Cobain, Tom Varey and Gordy Adam give competent performances. Joe’s girlfriend, Joyce (Hadley Robinson) plays a small part in his story but is there to encourage and cheer him on!
Backed up by expert technicians – particularly in the editing and cinematography – the film looks and sounds good with a clear story told well. Particularly exciting race sequences make the audience feel as though we are present as we watch the efforts of the rowers.