The Aeronauts

 

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Up, up and away from the Earth - but also from the facts.

 

Aeronauts, The

It happened one flight: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones

 

One definition of ‘romance’ to be found in my dictionary is that of ‘any fictitious and wonderful tale’. Tom Harper’s new film may assure us that it was inspired by true events and, indeed, it does centre on an actual record-breaking balloon trip undertaken in England in 1862 but, even so, The Aeronauts is best thought of as a romance. The term’s more familiar meaning, a love affair, is hardly less applicable here since the bond between the two chief aeronauts plays out in tones akin to romantic fiction.

 

Accept this film on these terms and it is an entertaining piece: the subject matter is novel, the technical trickery to make us feel that we are aloft with the two leading characters is adroit and (best of all) The Aeronauts is a brilliant showcase for the talents of Felicity Jones. Veracity, however, has little to do with it. The balloon ascent depicted did happen and did indeed involve a meteorologist and member of the Royal Society, one James Glaisher played here by Eddie Redmayne. Undertaken for scientific motives, the event took man higher than ever before and the screenplay by Jack Thorne and the director draws on some authentic details. Nevertheless, even though there are generalised disclaimers in the end credits, it is quite naughty for The Aeronauts to imply at the outset that truth is at the heart of it.

 

In point of fact, Glaisher, already married by then, had as his partner in the endeavour one Henry Coxwell. Not so here. The film’s second aeronaut who accompanies him is the fictitious Amelia Wren (Jones’s role) and she is in fact presented as the leading character, a strong woman to appeal to 21st century audiences. Redmayne to his credit makes Glaisher a convincing supporting figure without ever distracting us from the fact that the film pivots on Amelia. She is given a tragic past (the film’s rather clumsy flashbacks that keep interrupting the flight at intervals are the main debit for those ready to enjoy this essentially fictional tale). But even more important to the structure of the film is the fact that Amelia’s relationship with Glaisher, unmarried here, follows the standard romantic cinema arc in which initial verbal sparring gives way to respect and then to a closeness that could easily lead to marriage.

 

Jones is absolutely terrific and, although The Aeronauts comes near to functioning as a work for two players, there are telling cameos from Tom Courtenay and Anne Reid as James’s parents while, in the main supporting role as his friend and colleague, Himesh Patel given little to do nevertheless has enough screen presence to make one take note. If the tone of The Aeronauts is larger than life, so is the dialogue itself at times, but audiences looking for entertainment in the form of an escapist romance should get their money’s worth and by any standards Felicity Jones gives a performance to be cherished.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

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

 

Dir Tom Harper, Pro Tom Harper, Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman, Screenplay Jack Thorne and Tom Harper, from their story, Ph George Steel, Pro Des David Hindle and Christian Huband, Ed Mark Eckersley, Music Steven Price, Costumes Alexandra Byrne.

 

Amazon Studios/Mandeville Films/One Shoe Films/Popcorn Storm-Entertainment One.
100 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 4 November 2019. Cert. PG.