Inspired by a true story, The Aeronauts takes flight with a heavy cargo of dramatic licence to chart a highaltitude expedition, which pushes two emotionally driven souls to the upper limits of human endurance.
Director Tom Harper’s visually stunning odyssey is loosely tethered to Richard Holmes’s 2013 book Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air, which pays tribute to brave pioneers of the ballooning community.
Scriptwriter Jack Thorne focuses on one notable entry – the recordbreaking 1862 ascent of James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell – and replaces one of the men with a fictional female adventurer, whose daredevil actions are thrillingly realised by a stunt woman on a balloon in mid-flight.
Harper repeatedly smacks our gobs with vertiginous thrills and spills including a knuckle-whitening encounter with a raging storm that spins the balloon wildly out of control.
On a technical level, the film soars and George Steel’s breathtaking cinematography is particularly captivating on a giant IMAX screen.
However, characters are emotionally malnourished despite the best efforts of Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne to recapture their Oscar-winning onscreen chemistry from The Theory Of Everything.
James Glaisher (Redmayne) is a meteorologist in Victorian London, who believes the secret to predicting weather patterns lies 30,000 feet above the Earth.
While colleagues in the scientific community pour scorn on his ideas, James is compelled to prove his theory by attempting a record-breaking hot air balloon flight captained by Amelia Wren (Jones).
She is the wife of a famous pilot,
Pierre (Vincent Perez), who lost his life two years earlier during an illfated ascent.
Haunted by Pierre’s self-sacrifice, Amelia accompanies James in a wicker basket bearing a motto from Ovid – “Surely the sky lies open, let us go that way”.
Far below, James’s elderly parents (Sir Tom Courtenay and Anne Reid) and his good friend John Trew (Himesh Patel) await news of the expedition.
As the balloon passes 12,000 feet, James and Amelia are dazzled by swarms of butterflies fluttering around the basket.
Soon, reduced oxygen levels and the plummeting temperature threaten their wellbeing.
Eddie Redmayne as James Glaisher and Felicity Jones as Amelia Wren in a scene from The Aeronauts