The Aeronauts tells the sort-of true story of meteorological pioneer James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), who ascended to 37,000 feet in an air balloon circa 1862, alongside his pilot Henry Coxwell. This was done to break the record held by the French, and also to collect data that would prove weather predicting theories. But their journey eventually became a battle for survival.
Coxwell does not appear in this film. Instead, he has been replaced by a fictionalised “aspirational” character called Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones). Jones has stated in interviews that her character is a composite, largely based on aeronauts Sophie Blanchard and Margaret Graham, with the 1824 death of Thomas Harris providing the inspiration for Amelia’s tragic backstory. These changes have upset some, but do they matter? Well, it depends how much you care about factual veracity. Personally, I think The Aeronauts works splendidly, for the most part. Whilst watching my mind remained unconcerned by anything as sordid as fact.
Director Tom Hooper handles the anxiety inducing vertiginous set pieces very well, making this a genuinely thrilling high altitude adventure. When the film is airborne it soars. The surface set stuff – Rennes’s arguments with her more conventional sister, Glaisher earning the scorn of fellow scientists – is rather less riveting, but thankfully the bulk of the action is in the balloon, and it isn’t hot air. Indeed, the chemistry between Jones and Redmayne is a huge plus, with them fast becoming one of cinema’s unlikelier double acts, following this and The Theory of Everything.
With fine performances and spectacular visuals, The Aeronauts is a tremendously satisfying, primal cinema experience. Just make sure that if you do see it, you see it on a big screen (ideally in IMAX).