Film Review – The Aeronauts
The Aeronauts is an unexpected film. The majority of the film is set in London in 1862 and begins right before Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones) takes off in a giant hot air balloon with burgeoning atmosphere scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne). The film has no backstory, to begin with, other than the fleeting flashbacks of Amelia’s, which involve a man falling to his death. The audience is thrust into this pairing of two complete opposites thrown into a small space of a balloon’s basket with no escape. Amelia is the showman, the one that is giving the crowd exactly what they want who showed up to see them off. James is the unwilling non-participant in all of it. As soon as they are above the sight of the onlookers, it is all business; Amelia is the pilot, and James is the scientist.
The Aeronauts says that true events inspired it but never expands on this statement. Sure, there have to be embellishments for it to be a compelling and exciting film, but when the film ends, there is no expansion on what was true in the film. There are no historical drawings or prints of the inspirations. The film is loosely based on the book Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes and the screenwriters Jack Thorne and Tom Harper used the real-life James Glaisher and a combination of other female aeronauts to create Amelia. The flight that the film depicts never happened to the degree it did. Unfortunately, The Aeronauts is another Hollywood creation rooted in loose truths.
It is satisfying to see the role reversal between Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne after their award-winning roles in The Theory of Everything. Felicity Jones is more prominent in the film and given a stronger character. Her character is the one who has to overcome adversity and rise to the challenge. She is the savior of both herself and her male counterpart, who lies helpless after James’ hubris got the best of him and puts them both at deathly risk. The growth of her character and her heroic efforts made the film what it is, and it really felt like Felicity Jones put her heart and soul into Amelia.
The structure of The Aeronauts is not standard. As previously mentioned, the film starts with the balloon taking flight. Throughout the historical flight, we have flashbacks to both Amelia and James’ lives and the events that led to their meeting and collaborating on the balloon. Telling the story in this way allows the audience slowly to realize the motivations and actions of what is happening. Throughout the film, we see why James is so determined and where Amelia gets both her strength and her hesitation for taking on this voyage.
Even with it given the Hollywood treatment, The Aeronauts is still an exciting film. My expectations were low for it, and I was on the edge of my seat several times. However, if you are afraid of heights, it is worth noting that this film may make you a bit dizzy or queasy. What Amelia accomplishes during this balloon flight is nothing less than astonishing and enough to make me sink back in my chair and avoid looking at the screen. The CGI, combined with some real balloon flight footage, makes for a beautiful film that makes the audience feel like they are in that basket with Amelia and James and vivid enough to make us avert our eyes when things go awry. The Aeronauts is one of those films that should not be missed in theaters for that larger than life experience rather than waiting until it debuts on Amazon Prime.