The Aeronauts (2019)



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The Aeronauts is loosely based on an 1862 hot air balloon flight. It is also a reunion of Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, as aeronaut Amelia Wren and scientist James Glaisher. In ­The Theory of Everything (2014) Jones and Redmayne had real chemistry as husband and wife. There is not supposed to be a romantic relationship in The Aeronauts, but some on-screen chemistry is expected. Sadly, there is nothing between these two. Glaisher passes out for a period, so Wren is on her own for the most harrowing part of the film.


The real historic flight did involve James Glaisher as the onboard scientist, but the pilot was Henry Coxwell. The work that they performed together was groundbreaking in the burgeoning field of meteorology. It is disappointing that a true pioneer is not being recognized for his work. The movie opens by saying that it was based on real events. Historical achievements by women are underrepresented in television and film. That under-representation is not because of a lack of source material. It is a bit offensive to put a fictional woman into this movie. It is a cheap attempt to try and balance male domination in film, but what it really establishes is that writer and director Tom Harper couldn’t be bothered to find a true story of a pioneering woman in science.


Portions of The Aeronauts were shot in a real balloon basket that flew as high as 8000ft. A series of wide-angle camera shots are used throughout the filming. The fish-eye effect did not sit well with me on a large screen. Trying to film from inside the basket forced the use of the lenses, but there isn’t a good reason that a cut-away basket could not have been used on a sound stage. The cameras are also jittery at times because of the mounts to the balloon. Camera and shot set up are supposed to help convey the story. When done well the choices are not obvious and you appreciate the product. The Aeronauts was done poorly and as a result, the audience sees every camera choice and the logic behind it. I was taken out of the story multiple times because of the camera work.


The Aeronauts is available for free through Amazon Prime. I was disappointed more after I learned that Amelia Wren was fictional. Before knowing that, I was happy that a female scientist was at the center of a film. A made-up story when so many good ones are available is a huge step backward. The cinematography is too intrusive, and the few broad sweeping shots of England as seen from above don’t make up for the in-basket wide-angle shots. The utter lack of any chemistry between Jones and Redmayne is inexcusable because we know they can convey it as they did in The Theory of Everything. Even for free at home, I don’t think this movie is worth seeing.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst