Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The Aeronauts

James’ Hun And
The Aeronauts

The Aeronauts
2019 UK/USA Directed by Tom Harper
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very mild spoilers in terms
of the romantic content of the movie.

Directed by Tom Harper, The Aeronauts is one of those US co-productions with a distinctly British flavour, based on the real life antics of pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher in the 1860s. Starring the always brilliant Eddie Redmayne as Glaisher and the equally amazing Felicity Jones as his co-pilot on the venture, Amelia Wren, I was so entranced in this little ball of a wonderfully structured, cinematic gem that I was completely fooled in regard to the fact that, far from being a rock solid account of events as they took place in real life, there is a lot of fiction carefully grafted onto the source material to breathe life into the story. That is to say, the astonishing Mrs. Wren is, in fact, a complete fiction of a character... which makes me struggle a little with the restraint of one particular aspect of the story but I’ll come to that a little later. Suffice it to say, though, that Wren’s back story reads as completely convincing as any of the rest of the tale and it would be impossible for someone like me to tell what is what when it comes to seeing through the smoke and mirrors presented here. Not that I would want to do that, actually because... yeah... this is a truly entertaining little movie.

Okay, so  the film tells how Glaisher, with the help of his friend John Trew (played by Himesh Patel, who I thought was so good in Yesterday... reviewed here) approaches the recently widowed Amelia Wren, a couple of years after her husband died from falling from a hot air balloon flight the two were making (there’s more to that story but I won’t reveal it here), lifting her depression and hiring her as a co-pilot on a trip to get as far up as they can in the sky so that Glaisher can prove his theories about the atmosphere having layers and bring back enough research, or at least the start of research, to allow mankind to be able to predict the weather... something my various iphone apps still can’t do satisfactorily to this day. So next time you are looking at an app or show or weather report and want someone to blame for the blatantly false information based on meticulously researched guesswork, you can remember that you have James Glaisher to thank for it.

I love both lead actors in this movie and, of course, Redmayne and Jones already made a brilliant pair in their portrayals of Stephen Hawking and his wife in The Theory Of Everything (which I reviewed here). In this they are just as engaging and sharp as you would expect from them and it really helps to have two leads with such perfect chemistry because, frankly, the film is mostly a two hander set within their balloon... at least, that’s where the majority of the drama comes from.

In their quest to enlighten their audience, they are aided by a really ‘not bad’ script, in all honesty. The structure of the movie is such that the film starts with a bang just before the ballon is getting launched for its historic trip beyond the clouds and then, as the drama unfolds, one or other of the main characters will flash back to how they came to be in this position... in increments throughout the course of their current adventure... and just why they are exactly where they are (a bit like an old Marvel comic from the 1960s and 70s in that respect, I would say). The fact that they are both brilliant allows the narrative to soar through to the finish line with ease, using lots of comedy and personality clashes (to begin with) as Glaisher is the gruff, serious scientist (kind of) and Amelia is the wild, fun loving, entertainment seeker who demonstrates she can be more than just 'relied on' in a tight spot. This last demonstrated with some wonderfully fraught scenes of peril as the two characters race towards their final fate with death lurking in every gust of wind and with a truly brilliant final solution to slow the speed of their downward descent.

The film has a nice score, too, from Steven Price which, alas, has only been issued as the usual ‘quality challenged’, flat download and not put out on a proper CD... which means I won’t get the opportunity to hear it away from the main movie. However, it’s appropriate to the pacing and 'larger than life' shenanigans which go on in certain moments and beautifully compliments the visual information as it comes at you.

My one surprise (asides from a worrying scene with a dog early on in the film) comes in the form of the romantic element of the tale. It’s one of those movies where a burgeoning relationship is hinted at for the characters and it’s one which is never implicitly stated but certainly made a lot of in terms of the tone of the film. I was of the opinion then, as I watched it, that the two people obviously never ‘got it on’ in reality and so the moviemakers wanted to be true to life as much as possible, leaving the characters with a lot of things left unsaid. Which kinda made sense to me at the time. However, now that I know that Amelia Wren didn’t even exist in real life, I can’t think why the writers didn’t allow the romantic ‘sub plot’, as it were, to come to full fruition during the course of the film. I mean, everybody wants them to, don’t they?

Asides from this small puzzle and the fact that, in an age of CGI special effects, there is an underlying sense of sobriety in terms of taking the sheer spectacle of a hot air balloon credibly floating above 19th Century London at face value, I would have to say that The Aeronauts was one of the more enjoyable movies to get a cinema release this year and I’d gladly recommend this little slice of pseudo-history to anyone. The fiction of the thing may all be hot air but it certainly got this cinema goer to his final destination in as enjoyable a manner possible.

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