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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "The Aeronauts" soars past the truth

Dec 04, 2019 10:40PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in The Aeronauts - © 2019 Amazon.

The Aeronauts (Amazon)

Rated PG-13 for some peril and thematic elements.

Starring Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay, Phoebe Fox, Vincent Perez, Anne Reid, Tim McInnerny, Rebecca Front.

Written by Jack Thorne and Tom Harper.

Directed by Tom Harper.



I often employ a handy scale (of my own creation) for discerning historical accuracy in films. It’s my “Based on BS” scale that determines how far from the truth a film will stray, based on how the film’s precursor is worded. We begin with “The following is a true story,” which often carries the highest degree of veracity. On the opposite end of the scale is “Inspired by true events,” which is code for “we made this up.” Sadly, The Aeronauts begins with the “inspired by” graphic, which is unfortunate, considering how much liberty screenwriters Jack Thorne and Tom Harper (who also directs) took with the truth, altering history in the name of contemporary “wokeness.”

It’s the story of James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), a meteorologist seeking professional validation from British scientific societies in the 1860s. Since his ideas on weather are considered to be radical, James hopes to test his theories by going on a balloon ascent into the stratosphere, where he can measure air currents and gather other scientific data. Since none of his peers agree with his hypotheses, James has trouble chartering a balloon or a pilot to take him. He finally convinces Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones), an aeronaut and widow, whose husband died in a ballooning trip two years prior. Amelia is more than a balloonist. She’s a circus entertainer with a flair for showmanship. The pair takes off on an ascent that will take them higher than any other humans have flown (to that time), reaching more than 38,000 feet, before ice accumulation and thin air risk their lives.

For the most part, The Aeronauts is sometimes exciting and full of scares, especially if you’re afraid of heights (like me). The drama of survival and heroism creates a few tense moments and narrow escapes as the main characters grapple with the elements they are trying to study. Felicity Jones and Redmayne (reunited for the first time since their scientific pairing in The Theory of Everything) have a certain chemistry, although not romantic in nature. The computerized special effects are good enough to create the real sensation of balloon flight, even with less-than plausible antics taking place during the film.

Getting back to the BS, there’s a lot of it in The Aeronauts, not the least of which is the character of Amelia, replacing the very real Henry Coxwell, who indeed behaved heroically during Glaisher’s record-setting flight. I know there are very real stories about women in history who inspire young women to achieve greatness, so I’m baffled as to why there’s such a need to create false narratives to appease current social justice demands. I think this sort of alternative history does more damage than good; suggesting that the only way for women to succeed to is by dishonest means; an Orwellian reeducation of sorts.

Look, I know there were female scientists throughout history who are great source material for inspiration and I know that their stories are rarely told. Instead of forcing the narrative, why not embrace the truth of these very real people, which ought to be sufficient to address contemporary perceptions of sexism and misogyny? The Aeronauts may give a little hope, but it comes at the expense of the truth, which ought to be universally inspirational for anyone, regardless of gender.   

"The Aeronauts" Trailer