tue 11/08/2020

The Aeronauts review - up, up and okay | reviews, news & interviews

The Aeronauts review - up, up and okay

The Aeronauts review - up, up and okay

Thrilling action sequences are weighed down by uneven drama

Up above the clouds: Redmayne and Jones as the titular aeronauts

Wild Rose director Tom Harper blends fact with fiction in a charming Victorian ballooning adventure that reunites Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones for the first time since The Theory of Everything.

Redmayne gives an earnest performance as the real-life James Glaisher, an aspiring aeronaut who aims to vie with the mutton-chopped scientific community by soaring higher than anyone has ever gone before. However, Jones steals the show as Amelia Wren, Glaisher’s derring-do pilot. A fictional wealthy widow, she has little interest in petticoats and doilies, preferring to soar through the heavens, free from the constraints of London society below.

The story is based in part on Richard Holmes' 2013 Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, and Glaisher’s 1862 record-breaking journey that took him 38,999 ft above the ground. Jones’ character is a valuable addition. Loosely based on Sophie Blanchard and other female aeronauts of the age, she’s a daredevil with spirit, taking the limelight in a series of breath-taking scenes reminiscent of Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Felicity Jones in The AeronautsScreenwriter Jack Thorne (who’s behind the His Dark Materials on the BBC) and director Tom Harper are at their best when in the air. The sequences soaring over the rooftops of London and beyond are remarkable (especially if seen in IMAX). The action sequences will knock the wind from your lungs as the protagonists climb higher and higher. There’s a theatrical quality to the adventure, closer to magical realism than a historical period drama. You’ll find yourself swept up in the adventure of it all, as the duo's journey becomes ever more perilous and the temperature plunges below zero.

Sadly, you’ll come crashing down to earth in a series of less-successful flashbacks that seek to explain the motivations of the adventurers. Wren’s tragic background is handled well enough, but Glaisher’s backstory, which sees Anne Reid and Tom Courtenay play his ageing parents, is underdeveloped.

The result is a two-hander in terms of both plot and performances, where the balance is never quite right. The film's intentions are admirable, the action spectacular, but the drama is less impressive. Jones remains, as ever, a marvel.

@JosephDAWalsh

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