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New Release Review - THE AERONAUTS

the aeronauts review
In Victorian England, a meteorologist and a balloonist attempt to soar further than anyone has before.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Tom Harper

Starring: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Anne Reid, Tim McInnerny, Phoebe Fox, Tom Courtenay, Vincent Perez

the aeronauts poster


On September 5th, 1862, meteorologist James Glaisher and aeronaut Henry Coxwell left the English turf and assailed almost 39,000 feet into the heavens, making them the only humans who had ever ascended so close to the stars. The exploits of Glaisher and Coxwell provide the core inspiration for director Tom Harper's steampunk-esque adventure The Aeronauts. Yet while Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) remains, Coxwell is replaced by Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), a fictional amalgamation of both Coxwell and two pioneering balloonists of the Victorian era, Sophie Blanchard and Margaret Graham (and presumably named as a nod to a certain Ms Earhart).


the aeronauts review

From Graham comes the vaudevillian side of Wren, whom we meet in full-blown entertainer mode as she regales the crowd assembled to watch herself and Glaisher take off on their historic adventure with a very Victorian brand of sauciness. This rubs the stoic Glaisher up the wrong way, as he prefers not to make what he considers a mockery of his very serious scientific research. Any questions as to why Coxwell has been replaced by a fictional woman are answered by the unconvincing sexual friction the movie attempts to sell from the off, with the pair increasingly making googly eyes at one another, and collapsing on top of each other in bouts of turbulence. Can love lift them up where they belong?

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The curious attraction between Glaisher and Wren which the film hints at is complicated by the element of Wren's backstory borrowed from Blanchard. Like the real life balloonist, Wren was married to a French aeronaut (Vincent Perez) who perished during one of their flights. There's a death wish element to both Glaisher, who makes it clear he's willing to risk his life to achieve his scientific aims, and Wren, who implies that she may wish to follow her husband, but it would require a movie far less light in its tone than The Aeronauts to fully delve into this idea.


the aeronauts review

The Aeronauts is structured in a non-linear fashion that renders much of its narrative redundant. Glaisher and Wren's flight is interrupted by flashbacks that detail the former's trouble convincing his scientific peers that his ideas are worth backing and the latter's struggle to overcome her reluctance to take flight in the aftermath of her husband's death. Will they even get off the ground at all? Well, yes, we know they will, because here we are watching them in mid-flight. Similarly odd is how the flight lasts for little over an hour, yet the level of character development that occurs between Glaisher and Wren suggests a far longer expedition.

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Much like Robert Zemeckis's The Walk, The Aeronauts will likely draw in cinemagoers wishing to be subjected to vertigo inducing thrills, and with the aerial sequences expanding to fill the IMAX frame, the filmmakers clearly intend to have you hanging onto the edge of your seat. I get dizzy watching someone stand on a chair, yet despite the high flying hijinks on display here, I never felt so much as a minor queasiness. I can only put this down to how artificial and unconvincing the Harry Potter-esque CG backdrop is. The film asks us to live in fear of its characters plummeting to their deaths for 100 minutes, but it's all too clear that Redmayne and Jones are in the comfort of a green screen studio. Perhaps the only way to really pull this off would be to cast Tom Cruise and simply send him up in an actual balloon. You know the lunatic would do it too!


the aeronauts review

In one of the moments where Glaisher and Wren stare affectionately at each other, the former talks about how science can explain the reason behind natural phenomenon like snowflakes but can't pinpoint why we find them so beautiful. It's ironic that such a speech is delivered in a movie whose characters keep telling us about the wonder of floating in the heavens, yet fails to replicate the exact sense of awe they're describing for the audience.

The Aeronauts is in UK/ROI cinemas November 6th.


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