Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story (2001)

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This made-for-TV bio-pic is about Marilyn Bell, a Canadian teenager who, in 1954, was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. She won the Toronto Canadian National Exhibition prize ... See full summary »



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Credited cast:
Marilyn Bell
Graeme Somerville ...
George Bryant
George McBlair
Kent McQuaid ...
Myron Peters
Lisa Bronwyn Moore ...
Patsy MacKinnon
Chip Chuipka ...
Syd Bell
Jennifer Morehouse ...
Grace Bell
Ron White ...
Gus Ryder
Florence Chadwick
Susan Glover ...
Phyllis Ryder
Sean Devine ...
Mark Harrison
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Griffith Brewer ...
Old Geezer


This made-for-TV bio-pic is about Marilyn Bell, a Canadian teenager who, in 1954, was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. She won the Toronto Canadian National Exhibition prize after Florence Chadwick, a then-famous American swimmer who was widely expected to win, dropped out in the middle of the race. Half of this heart-warming movie is devoted to the 21 hour swim in which the 16-year old Bell is exhorted by her pushy coach Gus Ryder not to give up. Written by Sundar Narayan <sundar1@aol.com>

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Release Date:

4 February 2001 (Canada)  »

Also Known As:

Marilyn Bell: Une histoire de coeur  »

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Produced in 1999 but not broadcast until 2001. See more »

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User Reviews

Canada's Sweetheart
22 July 2012 | by (Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

When I was growing up I was still being treated to stories about Marilyn Bell becoming the first person to swim across Lake Ontario - and that was 20 years after the fact. Many have done it since, but she was the first. This made for TV production recounts some of the events leading up to the swim as Marilyn tries to be taken seriously as a long distance swimmer and offers a rather agonizing account in the last half hour or so of the actual swim - one that conquered the great American marathon swimmer Florence Chadwick, who gave up on the attempt a few hours into the swim.

Caroline Dhavernas (who is a fine Canadian actress) does well in the title role. She really is the epitome of the "sweetheart." She's small, she's cute, she's likable (even lovable) and as she portrays Marilyn you root for her to succeed in the swim. The other figures portrayed in the film are less lovable - her coach Gus Ryder, her mother and the head of the Canadian National Exhibition (which organized the event to get publicity through Chadwick's participation, and which didn't really want Bell included) don't come across well. Both her father and her friend Joan on the other hand do.

The greatest weakness here was the lack of any real portrayal of Marilyn's development as a swimmer. She fights to get onto Ryder's swimming team, and there's a few shots of her working in the pool, but then all of a sudden she's winning a big marathon swim in Atlantic City and then she's jumping into Lake Ontario for a more than 50 km swim across. That was a bit jarring. She must have done a lot more than we saw here to get ready for this swim. As I noted above, though, the portrayal of her swim is agonizing as she's close to giving up several times, and almost gets pulled out of the water by Toronto Harbour Police in sight of shore because she doesn't seem able to move anymore.

All in all, this is a good movie, if a little lacking in detail, and it's worth watching for Caroline Dhavernas' great performance.

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