The Aeronauts

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Aeronauts
dir Tom Harper
scr Jack Thorne
prd Tom Harper, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
with Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay, Anne Reid, Phoebe Fox, Tim McInnerny, Vincent Perez, Rebecca Front, Robert Glenister, Thomas Arnold, Lewin Lloyd
release UK 6.Nov.19,
US 6.Dec.19
19/UK Amazon 1h40

patel courtenay reid
london film fest

redmayne and jones
Thrilling aerial sequences liven up this true 19th century British drama, which offers a picturesque on-screen reunion for the always watchable Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. But it's written and directed with so much period movie sparkliness that there isn't much real life to it, and there's certainly no tension in the narrative. Still, as far as unambiguous prestige movies go, this one is amiable and gorgeous.
In 1862 London, scientist James (Redmayne) and pilot Amelia (Jones) lift off in their gas balloon to break the world altitude record. As they ascend, they recall how James and his colleague John (Patel) sought financial support for their experiments to predict the weather, and how Amelia lost her husband (Perez) in a ballooning incident then fended off suitors her posh sister (Fox) kept introducing. Meanwhile in the present, their bickering turns to camaraderie as they struggle to survive conditions no human has ever experienced, including low oxygen, freezing temperatures and a malfunctioning balloon.
It's not all doom in the air of course, as the script is carefully constructed to dart between peril and pleasure (a swarm of butterflies! A glory in the clouds!). In the more intense moments, it's nice that Jones gets to take the lead opposite the tetchy, bookish Redmayne. This helps establish their characters in unusual ways that nicely subvert the usual cinematic narratives. Thankfully, their rom-com style bickering morphs into respect rather than love.

Redmayne is solid as a rather dull, science-minded dork who discovers the value of shooting for the stars. He's always likeable on-screen, and uses his lanky physicality effectively. But this is really Jones' story, and she bring dark emotion to the film, along with seriously impressive tenacity. She also gets to do some wildly entertaining stuntwork. Side roles are small but strong, including Courtenay and Reid as James' befuddled parents, Fox as Amelia's pushy sister and a whole range of bushy, misogynist scientists.

If screenwriter Thorne had made a bit more of the political subtext, or if the film had been structured in a way that the outcome wasn't such a given, viewers might have been able to engage with the film on some deeper levels. As is, there's a lot of awesome aerial scenery and a breezily entertaining story about historical risk-takers who contributed to the body of knowledge we all take for granted today. It's an easy film to enjoy, even if there's not much to take away.

cert pg themes, violence 7.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall