The Aeronauts (2019). Film review of the drama about a Victorian adventurers

film still felicity jones aeronauts balloon climb
Standard

Historical/Period/Epic

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Jason Day, of The Aeronauts, the period drama about a Victorian meteorologist and the female balloonist he employs to unlock the secrets of the atmosphere. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

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Synopsis

1850’s London: James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is an idealistic meteorologist living at a time when scientists are derided for trying to predict the weather.

As one of these men his reputation suffers but he is determined to fly as close to the heavens as possible to record air pressure, temperature and more above the clouds.

All he needs is a plucky balloonist to get him up there. By chance, he meets Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones), grieving the loss of her husband Pierre (Vincent Perez) who died during an earlier balloon trip.

All James has to do is convince her to be his pilot.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

It’s not often you get a movie come along about Victorian weathermen and ‘jolly hockysticks’, balloon owning ladies…and even less often they star a dream acting combo like Redmayne and Jones.

The most thrilling thing about this otherwise by-the-numbers period feminist yarn was the reuniting of the duo who worked so superbly in the moving and effective The Theory of Everything (2014), for which Jones was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Redmayne went on to win for Best Actor as physicist Prof. Stephen Hawking.

And, as in their previous film, they are incredibly appealing and likable. They work together so well it’s incredible to think their on-screen characters could ever exist apart.

But exist apart they did…for one of them never existed at all.

This film strains credibility because of the gender equality/inequality slant to the narrative, an irksome trait of modern period dramas that represent the past through the prism of modern eyes.

I hate to get all academic and wordy about cinema but the word I’m thinking of when reviewing such period dramas is ‘verisimilitude’ (or, the appearance of being true or real).

And there is something unreal and false about The Aeronauts.

It proudly states it is based on a true story – although, to be fair, the posters do state it is ‘inspired’ by a true story – a statement that on face value for most people means all or mostly true.

Not so here because only 50% of the leading characters ever set foot on this earth.

James Glaisher is a real person who travelled in balloons with a pilot who was male, Henry Coxwell, a person who is airbrushed from these proceedings to be replaced with an entirely fictional creation embodied by Jones.

I know history has long been written from the perspective of an elite group – white, middle/upper-class men in the developed world – and that the achievements of women and other people who were notable as scientists and innovators has been downplayed.

It’s a shocking cultural oversight that society wrestles with to this day, but is the path cinema and TV should take one that deletes male achievements in order to (artificially) elevate those of women, even when those depicted women never actually existed?

I  groaned at the ‘men are bad’ ‘women will succeed’ obviousness of the story. I am bored of such films…I need more. This narrative was not sufficient. I hanker for better, more accomplished things. It isn’t enough to bash men…sorry, it just isn’t ‘on’. I demand and want more from cinema.

Or am I whingeing like the privileged white, middle-aged, middle-class man in the developed world I am?

Still, it is a lovely, nice story, but it won’t entirely grab you. It’s too – sorry about the pun – light as air to fully entertain.

There are some fab action sequences. The main storm sequence where Redmayne and Jones are tossed hither and tither is scary and Jones’ climb up the outside of the balloon above 30,000 ft was almost too much for me. My fingernails are still scored into my cinema seat. My testicles ascended far enough, I am still coughing on them.

But at the end, you’ll come away thinking this is full of hot air and feel slightly deflated by the whole endeavour.

For more, see the official The Aeronauts website.

Cast & credits

Director: Tom Harper. 1hr 40mins/100mins. Amazon Studios/Mandeville Films/One Shoe Films/Popcorn Storm. (PG).

Producers: Tom Harper, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman.
Writer: Jack Thorne.
Camera: George Steel.
Music: Steven Price.
Sets: David Hindle, Christian Huband.

Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Himesh Patel, Lewin Lloyd, Phoebe Fox, Tim McInnerny, Anne Reid, Tom Courtenay, Rebecca Front, Vincent Perez.

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