The Aeronauts takes us back to 1862, as headstrong balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) joins forces with scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) in an attempt to fly higher than anyone in history. As their perilous ascent reduces their chances of survival, the unlikely duo soon discover things about themselves – and each other – that help both of them find their place in the world.
Starring the ever-charismatic Felicity Jones, The Aeronauts is a visually stunning example of how one strong female lead can carry a film off to dizzying heights, even when that film is otherwise lacking.
Jones, who also appeared together with Eddie Redmayne as the husband-and-wife duo in The Theory Of Everything, stomps onto our screens with her Victorian geisha-style warpaint on, masked both physically and emotionally as she conjures up the excitement and expectations of her captive audience.
Based on the biography Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air by historian Richard Holmes, Tom Harper directs as Redmayne brings James Glaisher to life on screen. The headstrong scientist, based on the historical figure of the same name, is determined to collect atmospheric readings which prove wrong his arrogant colleagues who laugh off his insistence that meteorology is an actual thing; a science, not merely a fictional fad.
It is here that Jones’ character, the fictional showbiz aeronaut Amelia Wren, comes in. Glaisher is desperate to undertake a much-publicised flight with her to collect readings that could revolutionise science and life itself. He can’t do it without her, as she is essentially the pilot. The grieving Wren, recently widowed, is still haunted by flashbacks of the tragedy that stole her husband and is reluctant to fly again.
Nevertheless, after much head bashing, she concedes and the pair set off into the skies above, as an impressively large crowd applaud them into action. Redmayne is, of course, affable and bashful, even when grumbling at Wren. Adrift over beautiful vistas of 19th century England, complemented by breath-taking depictions – though clearly laced with CGI – of the boundless skies, cinematographer George Steel ensures that viewers are catapulted into the skies with them.
Wren’s character is actually a Hollywood stand-in for Glaisher’s actual co-aeronaut, Henry Coxwell, who, together with the scientist, rose 35,000 feet over the London skies back in 1862 – a record-breaking feat that put the scientist’s life at risk. However, in a script written by both Harper and Jack Thorne, it is Wren who becomes the stand-out hero.
It is Wren who remains calm and logical when the forces of nature rob Glaisher of his senses; Wren who scales the colossal mass of the balloon, against all odds, in an attempt to pull them out of death’s grasp; Wren the female who saves the life of Glaisher, the helpless male…
Jones is faultless in her depiction of Wren how pain and regret can actually help fuel fierce determination. Her facial expressions and captivating evocation of emotion throughout the film are brilliantly inspiring. Anyone feeling down on or doubtful about themselves would be inspired by her.
The actor’s acting capabilities clearly transcend the film itself, which rides on extended visuals and snippets of catchy banter between its two leads. Redmayne is similarly effective, believable and probably occupies a soft spot in the heart of everyone who watches him. And he happily sits back during many of the moments in which Jones shines.
Oh, and very importantly, to the credit of Harper and Thorne, there is no cheesy, overdone snog-scene-just-for-the-sake-of-it at the end of the movie. Moreover, we’re left guessing as to whether the leading pair do indeed become a couple, making a resounding and lasting insistence that possessing the strength of character to overcome life’s fearsome feats, is far more important than a fictionalised romantic ending.
Image: Amazon Studios
Kemi J Williams
Kemi J Williams is a film critic for Stylist magazine. She thrives on analysing all things on screen from cult classics to daring dystopias. Ardent about empowering girls and women, she can also be found teaching secondary English while juggling the joys and challenges of motherhood. You can catch her latest musings on Twitter and Instagram @KemiJWilliams.