Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne reunite in “The Aeronauts.” (Courtesy Amazon Studios)

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne reunite in “The Aeronauts.” (Courtesy Amazon Studios)

‘Aeronauts’ supplies high-flying adventure

Victorian exploration story not profound, but entertaining

Dramatizing a prime achievement in Victorian exploration, “The Aeronauts” pairs a real-life pioneering scientist with a fabricated charismatic showwoman and sends the two on a thrill ride, via hot-air balloon. Truth and depth aren’t the strong points of this high-altitude adventure, but as sheer entertainment, it delivers.

Directed by Tom Harper (“Wild Rose”) from a screenplay by Jack Thorne, the film is inspired by feats detailed in Richard Holmes’ book “Falling Upwards,” particularly the perilous 1862 mission in which early meteorologist James Glaisher and fellow aeronaut Henry Coxwell ascended about seven miles into the sky above London to research moisture at various altitude levels. Their findings helped scientists predict the weather.

Eddie Redmayne plays James Glaisher. The heroically performing Coxwell has been fictionalized into a flashy, norm-busting widow named Amelia (as in you-know-who) Wren, played by Felicity Jones.

Initially, James believes that Amelia, who cartwheels for the crowd and brings a parachute-outfitted dog into the balloon’s wicker basket, takes nothing seriously. Amelia thinks James is so obsessed with numbers and instruments that he can’t see grander realities. Both will demonstrate their mettle as the two travel to record-breaking heights and deal with unexpected trials.

These include a brutal storm and freezing temperatures. The latter cause James, who hasn’t brought along proper clothing, to lose consciousness. Additionally, a valve mishap threatens to fatally doom the mission.

The situation prompts Amelia, who’s experiencing exhaustion and frostbite (you’d think these seasoned scientists would wear gloves) to turn into a kicking, rope-climbing, careening action hero.

The film is formulaically structured, complete with a death-defying climax, and far from profound. (Some “reach for the stars,” while some “push others toward them,” says James’ colleague John Trew, played by Himesh Patel.)

Flashback overload, too, is a problem.

The filmmakers frequently interrupt the primary action with backstory sequences. We meet Amelia’s conformist sister (Phoebe Fox), James’ elderly parents (Tom Courtenay, Anne Reid) and stuffy colleagues with whom the forward-thinking James clashes. We learn about how Amelia’s husband, a fellow aeronaut, died during a flight tragedy.

Such scenes, most weakly written, break up the flow of superior material and do little to enrich the drama.

But Harper still creates satisfying entertainment, old-fashioned widescreen-adventure style. Wide-shot views of clouds, images of the balloon looking minuscule against the sky and a fluttering butterfly moment visually impress.

Redmayne and Jones, costars in “The Theory of Everything,” share a winning rapport, despite their underdeveloped characters. Jones, whose Amelia is based in part on balloonist Sophie Blanchard while also suggesting Sandra Bullock’s grief-plagued “Gravity” heroine, excels in action mode.

The two convey some of the excitement and awe that surely accompanied the experience of early air travel.

The best way to appreciate this movie is to shelve your nobler expectations and enjoy the trip.


The Aeronauts

Three stars

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox

Written by: Jack Thorne

Directed by: Tom Harper

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Movies and TV

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A “for rent” sign outside an apartment complex in the Mission District on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Housing inventory wins unanimous approval from supervisors

Legislation will require landlords to register properties, report vacancies and rents

Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor London Breed said new restrictions could come this week due to rising COVID-19 cases. (Examiner screenshot)
Breed: ‘More restrictive action’ needed to slow spread of COVID-19

San Francisco officials said Tuesday tougher restrictions will soon be imposed to… Continue reading

Harlan Kelly, head of the SFPUC and husband to City Administrator Naomi Kelly (right), faces federal charges for allegedly trading inside information on a city contract in return for a paid family vacation. (Courtesy photo)
Harlan Kelly, head of SFPUC, charged with fraud in widening Nuru scandal

Kelly accused of engaging in corrupt partnership with permit expediter

Jeff Tumlin, director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the agency’s fiscal situation is “far worse” than the worse case scenarios projected back in April. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA prepares for massive potential layoffs as budget crisis continues to build

More than 1,200 full-time jobs on the line as agency struggles to close deficit

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is weighing further restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise. (Genaro Molina/Pool/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Newsom considering new shelter-in-place order as COVID-19 cases rise

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday warned that he may need to reinstate… Continue reading

Most Read