How Accurate Is 'Adrift'? The True Story Makes Some Big Changes To Its Inspiration's Tale
Spoilers for the movie to follow. Coming to theaters June 1, the movie Adrift is based on a terrifying real-life story of survival. In 1983, engaged couple Tami Oldham-Ashcraft and Richard Sharp set off from Tahiti to deliver a yacht to San Diego. Despite being experienced sailors, they hit a record-breaking hurricane out at sea that devastated them. But how accurate is Adrift compared to the true story that inspired it?
Tami Oldham-Ashcraft wrote a book about her horrifying ordeal, Red Sky In Mourning: A True Story Of Love, Loss, and Survival At Sea, which was the basis for the film. As you might guess from the title, and what any glance at interviews with Oldham-Ashcraft will quickly reveal, is that the film decided to make one glaring revision. Let's start with the film's official synopsis:
Starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, Adrift is based on the inspiring true story of two free spirits whose chance encounter leads them first to love, and then to the adventure of a lifetime. As the two avid sailors set out on a journey across the ocean, Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) couldn’t anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. With no hope for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved. Adrift is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.
It sounds like an earnest and romantic story, but accurate? Not so much. Here's an excerpt of Oldham Ashcraft's book, from a New Zealand Herald review:
"I know in a blinding flash he's gone overboard. Snatched by the boiling cauldron of the ocean, whipped to a frenzy by the hurricane. When I realised he wasn't there, I wanted to die. From the depths of my soul, I feel an animal roar inside me. I scream and rage at the vast sea that's torn my man from me. I slip in and out of consciousness, delirious, half-dead."
Yup — in real life, Oldham-Ashcraft's boyfriend Richard Sharp was swept overboard during the storm, never to be seen again, while the film has him alive and acting as the main motivation for Oldham-Ashcraft to find her way back to civilization. However (major spoilers ahead), the movie does reveal towards the end that Sharp did actually die early on, and that it was really just his spirit that gave Oldham-Ashcraft the strength she needed to survive her 42-day ordeal.
Waking up badly injured after being knocked unconscious by the storm, Oldham-Ashcraft navigated over 1,500 miles alone with just a sextant and watch, surviving on canned food and peanut butter until she reached the safety of Hilo, HI. The film has her coming to and finding Richard badly injured, leaving her the only one able to operate and repair the yacht, which she does under Richard's guidance.
For those worried that the movie of Adrift is just another case of Hollywood tweaking tragedy for more melodrama, Oldham-Ashcraft was deeply involved in the film's creation from day one. In an interview, she told Red Carpet Crash she'd been working with the screenwriters for over five years since they came to her with the idea of turning her book into a film, noting, "I've waited many years for fruition, to see my story on the big screen." So any deviations from the sailor's lived experience are intentional, and done with her approval.
Regarding the major difference, Oldham-Ashcraft said she doesn't want to be a spoiler and noted, accurately, that "there is a little bit of a twist and everything becomes clear in the end. I think it's a marvelous way they did the creativity and work to bring the story to life. They stayed pretty close to the story, actually...you'll have to see it to see what actually transpired."
If Oldham-Ashcraft was able to have faith in herself for survival, audiences can trust her that the film truly honors her story.