The Swimmers review – inspiring true story of two refugee sisters defying the odds

By Romey Norton
Published: November 23, 2022 (Last updated: December 16, 2023)


This story is a powerful one filled with tragedy and triumph. An emotional journey which had my heart in my throat throughout.


We review the Netflix film The Swimmers, which does not contain spoilers.  

Netflix brings the true story of how two sisters, Sara and Yusra, fled Syria to Greece to Germany before one competed for the refugee team in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Netflix is becoming a streaming service for untold, unbelievable stories and this film is certainly a must-watch. The film has a runtime of two hours and fifteen minutes and is in both English and Arabic; there are subtitles available. 

Sara, now 26, and Yusra Mardini, now 24, left their home in Damascus in August 2015, four years after the conflict broke out in March 2011, in a bid to reach Europe. They planned to fly to Istanbul, before traveling to Greece via sea, then on land to Germany. Their journey nearly ended in tragedy when the motor stalled leaving its eighteen passengers in a frightening situation. As the boat was only meant to carry seven people it was highly over its weight capacity, so the sisters jumped into the icy waters and began swimming for their lives. For three hours the girls pushed the dingy from Turkey to Greece. Unbelievably, and luckily, they reached the shore with all passengers surviving. 

The film is not only about the swimming sisters, but it is also a detailed journey of how and what refugees go through to find safety. The danger, the abuse, and how people from every country take advantage of their situation. It’s eye-opening and will make you think about how you view refugees. 

The acting is fantastic, the best I’ve seen in a while. The actors have a strong chemistry and at times, I forgot that they weren’t actually sisters. All supporting actors, family, friends, their coach, and others on the boat give memorable performances. 

There are beautifully shot slow-motion scenes throughout, a lot used underwater, which makes you slow down as a viewer and focus on the image. Water is calming and tranquil, but it’s also unpredictable and wild. Whilst we enjoy and play in the sea, somewhere, there are people dying in it. 

Watching this story of what these girls had to go through is heartbreaking and heart-warming at the same time – there is a strong, energetic pace to the film, and I couldn’t stop watching. There are some grueling scenes that make your jaw clench and leave a lump in your throat. The scenes of everyone scrambling into the small raft that they’ve paid a lot to get into is powerful and sickening. The image of the girls holding one another on the shore will really stick with me. 

With an emotional ending, this film certainly tells this story very well and gives it the recognition and credit it deserves. This film teaches audiences to be strong, be respectful, recognize what others are going through, and to find your lane, and swim your race. 

In 2012, Yusra represented her country at the World Championships in Turkey and her goal was to train and hope to compete in the 2020 Olympic games. For the first time in History, the International Olympic Committee announced that the nations competing in Rio would be joined by a team of refugees, made up of athletes who would otherwise find themselves stateless and excluded. There were 42 athletes in total, Yusra swam the 100m butterfly and won a medal.

What did you think of the Netflix film The Swimmers? Comment below.

More Stories on The Swimmers

Movie Reviews, Netflix, Streaming Service