Show woman Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) takes to the skies with nervous young scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne). As Glaisher tries to push them further and further in the name of meteorology, Amelia must keep the two of them alive whilst confronting her own doubts and demons.
James Glaisher was a man who lived and actually studied the patterns of weather. The film is an biography of Glaisher and yet cannot help but fall in love with it’s strongest character, the emaculately compelling Wren. Wren is however an amalgamation of women who assisted Glaisher, including Sophie Blanchard and Margret Graham, neither of whom accompanied Glaisher on his historic trip. It has proved to be a controversial revision to history. However it is a useful one.
Biographies will always say more about the author than the subject. The film is not a documentary but an attempt to capture the spirit and significance of this trip and is undeniable that women assisted Glaisher in his work and that it is important to recognise the contributions of these women. Wren’s clash with a condescending Royal Society and her struggle with personal grief adds much needed personal stakes to the historic achievement.
Felicity Jones is essentially the film’s lead, and brings Amelia to life as an exciting performer and a stoically competent yet tragic survivor. Redmayne is convincing as the naive scientist and is, as always, a wonderfully unique actor who presents an understated form of confidence. Here he also portrays obsession and madness with a believable frankness.
The most extraordinary set-piece of the film involves Amelia climbing on top of the balloon in freezing temperatures to open a panel that has frozen shut. It’s a long sequence that viscerally communicates the peril and difficulty of the feat. Jones’ performance and Harper’s direction, as well as the breathtaking IMAX photography, make the sequence absolutely riveting.
Not all of the action is as deftly realised. When the balloon needs to move rapidly, the special effects are unable to convincingly convey the reality of the situation. The sequences become weightless. Fortunately director Tom Harper knows to focus on the two passengers and their struggle.
The Aeronauts may not be the whole truth, but it is a truthful film about the importance of knowledge, the bravery of people in search of truth and of the strength of women. It’s a spectacle and a delight.