Film Review by: #BrianPenn
Just when you thought you knew all there was to know about the Victorians, they go and pull another genius out of the hat. James Glaisher was a scientist who made a record breaking balloon flight in September 1862. Glaisher was attached to the Greenwich Observatory and saw ballooning as a means of understanding the weather better.
Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) initially fails to find interest or support for his project. However, lady aeronaut Amelia Renne (Felicity Jones) agrees to act as pilot and realise his dream of understanding the earth's atmosphere. Entrepreneur Ned Chambers (Robert Glenister) funds the venture in return for a showpiece launch before a paying audience.
The narrative moves along at a steady pace jumping smartly between past and present. The flight scenes feature brilliantly constructed panoramic views of London in the 1860s; while the flashbacks fill in the back story of Glaisher and Renne. Members of the Royal Society dismiss Glaisher as an eccentric but finds a kindred spirit in Renne, who is still coming to terms with personal tragedy.
The film has caused some controversy among historians, who have called out numerous inaccuracies in the storyline. Admittedly, the producers have taken hideous liberties with the truth. Amelia Renne is a complete invention, replacing Henry Coxwell, Glaisher's real life pilot. Similarly, Glaisher was 53 at the time of the flight, so it is barely credible that Redmayne (aged 37 but looking about 16) should play him. However, such corruption is simply used to accommodate a romantic interest for Glaisher. In any event, the film never purports to be an historical document; the opening titles lead with the telling words inspired by true events.
The Aeronauts is a thoroughly entertaining romp with some genuine white knuckle moments. There’s no question Redmayne and Jones have on screen chemistry, but there are also some delightful cameos to enjoy; particularly Tom Courtenay and Anne Reid as Glaisher’s kindly parents. There is excellent attention to detail adding a degree of authenticity; it also provides a rare opportunity to discover another Victorian pioneer who will be unknown to many. James Glaisher is the founding father of meteorology whose work enabled greater understanding of climatic change. So I can forgive a touch of truth bending this time.