The Aeronauts (4 stars)

The Aeronauts

TIFF 2019: Epic and immersive tale of derring-do reteaming Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne

The old-school, ripping yarn adventure is in very safe hands in The Aeronauts. Wild Rose director Tom Harper transforms true events from Victorian England into an epic tale of derring-do that might have made Jules Verne proud. Some of the emotional baggage may tend towards the earthbound but when The Aeronauts takes to the skies it is a film that positively soars.

In 1862, pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is about to take flight in the strongest and largest hot air balloon ever built. His desire is to understand the science of the skies and predict weather patterns. His pilot is fearless widow Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones, playing a fictional character based, in part, on Sophie Blanchard and replacing aeronaut Henry Coxwell in events). Wren arrives with a flourish of crowd-pleasing theatrics and subsequently jettisons her dog from the balloon. It has the advantage of a parachute, unlike the two humans who also seem to have forgotten to pack any warming headgear.

The odd couple of stuffed-shirt academic and daredevil pilot bond during the most testing of moments as they drift towards record-breaking heights, a thinning atmosphere and treacherous ice. On a technical level, the film is an immersive marvel. The viewer is plunged into lofty vistas where you can hear the distant echo of church bells. The contrast comes in death-defying climbs on slippery ropes as frostbite grips and insensibility threatens. There is such beauty in the air and drama in the flight that you almost forget that the focus is just two people in a basket.

Jack Thorne's screenplay neatly layers in flashbacks that establish Glaisher's battles with a scornful academic establishment and Wren's lingering trauma from the death of her husband. They are the more predictable elements in a film of great charm that underlines the fond chemistry between Jones and Redmayne that previously served The Theory of Everything so well.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2019. General release from Mon 4 Nov.

The Aeronauts

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US / UK
  • 1h 40min
  • Directed by: Tom Harper
  • Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones,

In 1862, meteorology pioneer James Glaisher (Redmayne) takes flight in a hot air balloon piloted by Amelia Wren (Jones). Old-school adventure with spectacular effects and a neatly layered screenplay; any predictability is offset by the film’s charm and the fond chemistry between Redmayne and Jones.