Photo | Amazon Studios
If you enjoy the costumes and period details of historical dramas but don’t care about marriage plots or wars stories, there is finally a flick for you. “The Aeronauts” is about an unlikely pair in a gas balloon, played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who are neither courting nor battling, as they attempt to pilot a balloon higher than anyone in history in 1862. The effects and cinematography as these two charmingly costumed people leave earth create a beautiful-looking and genuinely suspenseful story.
Theirs is a rather straightforward adventure: They set out in the balloon as soon as the story begins and then we spend most of the film up there with them, as it becomes increasingly unclear whether what comes up will indeed come back down. A few flashbacks fill in what is at stake.
James (Redmayne) is a scientist who has faced humiliation trying to introduce the concept of meteorology to his colleagues. While we accept and certainly benefit from what now seems an extremely obvious notion, James is literally laughed out of the halls of science for stating what any of us who has prepared for a hurricane certainly know to be true — that knowing what weather was coming could save many, many lives.
Having convinced a financial backer to fund his expedition into the skies to gather unprecedented information about the atmosphere, the bookish James needs an aeronaut to pilot the balloon, and for some reason chooses Amelia (Jones), the grief-stricken widow of a French aeronaut who died in a balloon accident. “The Aeronauts” is based on a true story, which begs the question: Why not choose someone who might not have such heavy psychological baggage related to exactly what you must convince them to undertake?
That’s because although James was real, Amelia was not. In real life, another dude flew the balloon with the budding meteorologist. The character of Amelia is based on a few different real female aeronauts from the time, and undoubtedly her backstory and character punch up the story of the expedition a great deal. The gender differences enhance the pair’s mismatched personalities; he is a reserved scientist while she is a sassy show-woman who wears a costume to their launch and works the crowd, dazzling them with a parachuting dog. Once they are in the air and face the beauty of their surroundings, they discover they both have the same favorite poem.
Not to belabor a metaphor about a film about flying, but “The Aeronauts” is simply uplifting. It reminded me of “The Martian” in a way, in that it was an adventure about problem solving that is fun to watch and experience. There is a way to present practical details, steps and consequences that hooks you and makes it exciting, and this film does that. Plus, the two rather quirky leads work well together. They have a nice chemistry that goes beyond stereotypical differences in temperament and gender, and it contributes to what is a truly thrilling, rather wholesome adventure.
I will watch anything, regardless of violence, sex and other objectionable content, so sometimes I forget there are plenty of viewers who have a hard time finding a movie they can watch because they (or their movie-watching partners) avoid such. I would like to alert these tender readers to “The Aeronauts,” which sacrifices nothing in terms of entertainment value while remaining fully clothed and free from violence. The cinematography was really lovely and it’s too bad it stayed in theaters for such a short time, because that balloon hanging in the sky looks really beautiful, even on a smaller screen. A movie about the origins of meteorology might sound too niche, but the adventure of two interesting and compassionate friends high in the clouds is universally fascinating, truly suspenseful and visually stunning.
“The Aeronauts” is available to stream.
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