Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Aeronauts ★★★☆☆

There’s nothing more comforting than a British period adventure. Feeling like a trusty old sweater by the fireplace on a winter’s morning, these films are nothing more than a warm hug. The latest entry in this unofficial genre is Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts, an Amazon-backed yarn that had its UK premiere at this year’s London Film Festival. Reuniting The Theory of Everything’s two leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, The Aeronauts is comfort food of the highest order. But is it actually a good film?

Based on a true story, headstrong scientist James Glaisher (Redmayne) and wealthy young widow Amelia Wren (Jones) mount a balloon expedition to fly higher than anyone in history. As their perilous ascent reduces their chances of survival, the unlikely duo soon discovers things about themselves -- and each other -- that help both of them find their place in the world.

Now firstly, the film has faced a lot of criticism for the lack of historical accuracy. While I can overlook most issues, the key problem here is that Amelia Wren never travelled with James Glaisher – she never existed. Glaisher travelled with fellow scientist Henry Coxwell, who has been scrubbed from history and replaced with a fictional female character here. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a sexist criticism. Far from it! There are many deserving (and real) female scientists from the period who deserve big-screen films made about them, so why not do that before you erase another name from history? Cinema is powerful and will subconsciously become people’s point of reference for history. I can guarantee in many years’ time, people will be discussing how a man and a woman embarked on the legendary journey together and Henry Coxwell’s involvement will be completely forgotten. While I totally agree it is important to have strong, aspirational female characters in films of this genre, it isn’t fair to do it at the expense of real, accomplished figures who risked their lives only to be replaced by fiction. Ok, rant over…

Visually, The Aeronauts soars. The special effects here are absolutely staggering for a streaming-backed film, and it is unfortunate that it will inevitably have such a limited theatrical window so the film can be launched on Amazon’s streaming service. This is a film that deserves the biggest screen possible – thankfully, a brief IMAX release is confirmed. The Aeronauts is a true adventure of the grandest scale, feeling inviting the viewer into the balloon basket with Redmayne and Jones as they embark on their perilous journey. And it’s a good company to be in – the pair deliver fine performances with superb chemistry, carrying a lot of the film themselves.

But despite the stunning effects and serviceable performances, the film is a generic and cliché-ridden affair – all story beats can be seen coming a mile off whether one knows the true story or not, and the film does suffer as a result. The Aeronauts fails to leave a lasting impression with the viewer and although it’s a tasty distraction for a couple of hours, there could’ve been a lot more to it. Character development is lacking and the predictability does remove a lot of tension from the narrative. 

All that being said, The Aeronauts is absolutely what I said at the beginning of this review. It’s a warm hug, it’s comfort food. This is Sunday afternoon viewing if ever I saw it, and could easily become a Christmas staple in the coming years. It’s no masterpiece, but there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours. Take to the sky with The Aeronauts – just adjust your expectations.

Sam Love

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