Up, Up & Away (Film Review: “The Aeronauts”)

A thrill ride rooted in history, about a hot air balloon adventure that changes the course of meteorological science forever.

SnapShot Plot

The Aeronauts may not be the most sentimental choice for this Valentine’s Day Weekend, but it most certainly qualifies as a love story, if not along conventional lines. Starring that fantastic pairing of Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything ), the passion at the heart of the film doesn’t reside in the relationship between the two leads as much as it lives (literally) up in the ethers of earth’s atmosphere.

Redmayne plays an historical character, James Glaisher, a leading British scientist in the 1860s who was convinced that the key to unlocking a predictive analysis of weather patterns could be found by studying things like wind patterns and gas levels at high altitudes. In fact (and this was not included in the movie) he made 28 ascents between 1862 and 1866, recording data that became critical in Man’s understanding of weather. A most timely theme today, one could argue. Among Glaisher’s discoveries: the unique manner in which raindrops form and gather moisture, as well as the fact that wind changes speed at different altitudes.

Jones plays a Feminist firecracker of a character, an early Aeronaut by the name of Amelia Wren, who at first comes across more as a circus performer than serious adventurer. She’s got a tragic backstory which haunts her confidence yet challenges her to push on when Glaisher tracks her down and begs her to take him up into the sky for a daring expedition to break the previous altitude record for a gas balloon. His intentions are in the name of Science; hers are to exorcise the demons of her past and to finally let go of the crippling anxiety surrounding her late husband’s death. What transpires in their fateful trip into the skies over London, with nothing but the basket that holds them, a giant balloon above them, and the great void beyond is as exciting as any action-adventure film one can imagine. This movie is a white-knuckle ride indeed, and those with a fear of heights should know in advance that they’ll be peeking through their fingers at most of this movie’s heart-stopping action, mostly all of it in the daredevil performance of Felicity Jones.

Parting Shot

The Aeronauts was directed by Tom Harper from a story he created with collaborator Jack Thorne (who actually wrote the script.) As is typical of movies loosely based on historical characters or events, lots of poetic license is taken in the creative process. In this case, although James Glaisher indeed is the figure he’s painted out to be in the film, those discoveries were made with his partner, fellow scientist Henry Tracy Coxwell, with whom he made several balloon expeditions during those years. And the two men did in fact break the world record for the highest any human had been in a balloon.

Amelia Wren, however, is a fictional construct. Her first name of Amelia is homage to the historical aviator, Amelia Earhart, but she is also based on Harper’s grandfather, an avid weather watcher who would always scan the cloud formations and try to predict weather patterns. Wren’s character was inspired by Margaret Graham, the first British woman to successfully achieve a solo balloon flight, but even more so the Aeronaut Sophie Blanchard. Blanchard’s husband, Jean-Pierre-Francois Blanchard, also died after falling from his balloon in 1809 when he suffered a heart attack mid-flight. Like Amelia Wren in the film, in real life Blanchard made dazzling displays in the sky with fireworks, and too, parachuted dogs onto the ground from the balloon baskets.

Whether fixed to the firmament in a strict adherence to historical fact, or soaring higher and higher in the pursuit of knowledge and courage, one thing is for certain, as Amelia Wren makes clear: “Look up, the sky lies open.”

The Aeronauts is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4EQI7bBJ78

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