Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones Reunite for the Adventure of a Lifetime in ‘The Aeronauts’
Hot air balloons, that we associate with family fun, romance, and other recreational activities, were actually once used for scientific purposes. One brave scientist who used a hot air balloon to change the world was James Glashier (Eddie Redmayne), the subject of the thrilling adventure film “The Aeronauts.” Based on real events, the film tells of a historic 1862 flight above the skies of London undertaken by James and a pilot, here represented by the fictional Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones). The film, which clocks in at a tight 100 minutes, shows the flight in real time, interwoven with flashbacks of the events that brought the pair together and into the flying contraption.
“The Aeronauts” reunites Redmayne and Jones, who previously played Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane in “The Theory of Everything.” Just as they did in that film, the pair compliment each other well here. James is a serious scientist with little patience for flourishes, while Amelia’s a skilled show(wo)man, as we see her hype up the crowd gathered to watch the pair take off for what is to be a monumental flight. She has a romantic view of aeronautics, while he’s so obsessed with facts that he sends out carrier pigeons from the balloon so that his data will survive even if he and Amelia do not. Still, Amelia proves to be rather pragmatic where it counts, as it is she who makes sure that they have the necessary supplies, while James have trouble focusing on anything other than the purpose of the mission.
Flashbacks show what goes into undertaking such a project and going to where no man (or woman) has gone before. Convinced that it’s possible to predict the weather by studying the atmosphere, James is ridiculed by his colleagues at the Royal Society, and even his own parents (Tom Courtenay, Anne Reid) discourage him. Only his loyal assistant, John Trew (Himesh Patel) believes in him in those early days. Determined, he seeks out Amelia, who flew with her late husband, Pierre (Vincent Perez), until he died while trying to fly higher than any other person, a record James has his eye on breaking. Understandably, Amelia has reservations about getting back into a balloon, and even though her sister (Phoebe Fox) tries to steer her towards more feminine pursuits, she eventually agrees to be James’ flight partner.
Despite their spirited, circus-like sendoff, the actual flight is anything but whimsical, as Amelia and James brave the elements, including a rainstorm and freezing temperatures. The viewer will be at the edge of their seats watching them being pushed to the limits of human endurance. Amelia, especially, is put through the wringer, as she has to perform heroic feats in order to assure that both of them survive. At one point she even admits that she doesn’t feel she was meant to survive the flight, but she’s stronger than she thinks, and a shocking flashback reveals what drives her.
Amelia is such a strong female character, that it’s disappointing to discover that she’s not a real person, although she may have been based on the real-life French balloonist Sophie Blanchard. Director Tom Harper has faced criticism for the exclusion of Henry Coxwell, Glashier’s actual flight partner. However, Amelia is representative of all those female scientists and adventurers who never got their due, and she is sure to inspire at least some young female viewers.
“The Aeronauts” opens Dec. 6 in select theaters and begins streaming Dec. 20 on Amazon Prime.