Netflix’s True Spirit: Is the Movie Based on Jessica Watson’s Life?

Netflix’s ‘True Spirit’ is a biopic that follows the story of a sixteen-year-old girl named Jessica Watson, who decides to undertake the humungous task of circumnavigating the Earth alone. Of the many challenges that she is to meet in her journey, Jessica also has to brave the opposition she faces from the people who consider her too young to embark on such an adventure. Against all odds, she sets sail and has to survive some very tough circumstances, all on her own. Directed by Sarah Spillane, the film portrays the extraordinary courage of the young girl as well as her family who continue to support her through everything. If you are wondering whether the film takes inspiration from a real story, then here’s what you should know about it.

True Spirit: Jessica Watson’s Inspiring Tale

Image Credit: Julian Panetta/Netflix

Yes, ‘True Spirit’ recounts the true story of Jessica Watson. At the age of sixteen, she sailed around the world for 210 days solo, unassisted, and non-stop. She left the Sydney Harbour on October 18, 2009, and set foot back there on May 15, 2010. This entire journey, in addition to the preparation that it required, is presented in the film, which stays very true to portraying the details of her struggles and challenges. Watson’s book ‘True Spirit: The Aussie Girl Who Took On The World’ serves as the inspiration for most of the plot in the film.

As portrayed in the movie, Jessica started sailing at a very young age and got interested in the idea of circumnavigating when she read ‘Lionheart: A Journey of the Human Spirit’ which tells the story of 17-year-old Jesse Martin who accomplished the feat at a very young age. In preparation for her journey, she trained for years, taking sailing lessons along with the courses that gave her the necessary skills to take care of the boat and repair it, if necessary, all by herself. This included everything from a diesel engine course to first-aid courses.

Talking about what prompted her to even think about this feat that takes people years to prepare for, Watson said: “When you live on the water, it’s sort of like an unwritten law that, when another boat is pulling in, you stop to give a hand and take their lines. But being a ‘little girl’ meant that more often than not, my offer of help would be completely ignored, while the line was passed to the fully grown man next to me. I found this incredibly frustrating as I knew that I was just as capable of handling the lines as anyone else. I hated being judged by my appearance and other people’s expectations of what a ‘little girl’ was capable of.” The film portrays this feeling in the scene where we find the same thing happening to her sister, Hannah.

Image Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/Youtube

The film remains rather faithful to her journey by portraying events like the time when her boat crashed into a cargo ship, which was a 63,000-ton Chinese bulk carrier, during the trial run. Similarly, the backlash that she and her parents receive in the movie is also very true. Many people were concerned about whether it was wise to send a sixteen-year-old out into the ocean all by herself. Some believed it would set a wrong precedent.

While it gets most of the details right, there are a few things that don’t make it into the film. For example, the film has Ben Bryant as the only professional sailor advising and coaching Jessica throughout her journey. In reality, there were a group of people involved in helping her throughout the process, including getting the sponsorship for her mission, one of whom was Don McIntyre. One should also mention the fact that despite completing her journey, Watson did not get to be on the record books as the youngest sailor to circumnavigate due to the technical discrepancies in the total distance covered by her. Still, that does nothing to cloud her achievements.

Considering what she accomplished, Jessica Watson wanted one thing to come out of her story. “I hope that part of what I’m doing out here is proving that we shouldn’t judge by appearance and our own expectations. I want the world to know exactly what ‘little girls’ and young people are actually capable of,” she said. The film also aims to instill this feeling in young people and inspire them to follow their dreams.

Read More: Where was Netflix’s True Spirit Filmed?