- 20 Nov 19
Stunning visuals and thrilling action make for one hell of a ride.
Hot on the heels of Wild Rose, a nuanced character study of a young singer struggling to rise through the stratosphere of success, director Tom Harper turns his attention to a different kind of stratospheric journey. Based on a true story, The Aeronauts stars Eddie Redmayne as James Glaisher, the pioneering meteorologist who was determined to explore the atmosphere. In 1862, he broke the world record for altitude after ascending to 35,000 feet in a balloon. So far, so accurate. But in a move that will enrage historians and Men’s Right Activists, Jack Thorne’s screenplay creates a gender-swapped composite character for the balloon’s pilot; and so Felicity Jones plays the headstrong-yet-tormented aeronaut, Amelia Wren.
The character of Wren allows the film to examine Glaisher and Wren’s experiences of being outsiders: he, a thinker ahead of the game, and she, a woman ahead of the gender politics of her time. But while they share ambition, talent and isolation, they are polar opposites. Glaisher is rigid, detail-oriented and worships rationality, while Wren embraces all the highs and lows, emotional as well as literal. Still traumatised by the death of her husband on her last balloon journey, she nevertheless begins the voyage with a carnival-esque performance complete with acrobatics and jokes, knowing that the assembled crowd aren’t interested in science, but a show.
This idea of spectacle also takes over when the balloon ascends, with the characterisation rapidly thinning out along with the air. As the ride unfolds almost in real time, Harper focuses on the action, wonder and danger of the skies. The aeronauts are dramatically hurled through storm clouds, wondrously surrounded by butterflies, and endangered by the freezing temperatures.
A sequence where a frostbitten Wren must climb the outside of the balloon is truly thrilling, but the slowly paced, drawn-out flashbacks and increasingly stilted script prove deflating. Still, it’s a lovely journey to watch on the big screen.
Directed by Tom Harper. Written by Jack Thorne. Starring Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Tom Courtenay, Himesh Patel. 101 mins. In cinemas now.