The Aeronauts follows 19th century scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) and hot air balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) as they attempt to fly higher than anyone before, leading to a dangerous and action-packed adventure thousands of feet above the ground. Although the title of the film sounds like something you’d expect to find on a children’s TV channel, this movie is, at times, beautiful, exhilarating and a whole lot of fun. Yet, while the film aims for the stars, it falls just short of achieving greatness.
The story is very loosely based on real events, and, while the extent to which writers Tom Harper and co drift from the real story feels like a bit of a cop-out, this creative freedom allows for an incredibly interesting and immersive adventure beyond the clouds. Harper’s decision to ignore the constraints of reality enables the development of a number of exciting set-pieces that emphasise the life-or-death stakes that these characters face. One particular scene, in which Amelia falls from the balloon after attempting to perform some risky mid-flight maintenance, is so impressively engaging that you physically feel yourself falling with her – leading to an embarrassingly twitchy reaction reminiscent of when you fall over in a dream.
The film is remarkably shot, with cinematographer George Steel developing gorgeous scenes throughout the entirety of the characters’ journey. The paradox between Harper’s dynamic, enveloping direction during the film’s more eventful sequences and the stunning, serene cinematography in the film’s more tranquil and introspective moments works brilliantly, ensuring the audience experiences the full range of visual joys that the movie has to offer.
However, the film’s decision to break up the adventure with needless moments of backstory and exposition is disappointing, causing a loss of momentum in its most impactful moments. While witnessing Amelia’s struggles as she fights back against what it means to be a woman in 19th century England leads to some poignant statements, and a compelling dynamic between herself and her more ‘traditional’ sister, Antonia (Phoebe Fox), it feels out of place with the rest of the experience, as though the writers felt obliged to add depth to an otherwise action-centric storyline.
The message of her struggle is admirable, but treads similar ground to previous films such as Miss Potter, feeling far too familiar as a result. As too does James’ backstory, with the relationship between himself and mentor Ned Chambers (Robert Glenister) relying too heavily on the overused biopic trope of ‘frustratingly out-of-touch teacher vs well-intentioned, overlooked rookie’.
Nonetheless, the leading duo do a fantastic job with the roles they’re given, ensuring that these characters remain interesting enough to keep the audience entertained throughout the majority of the film. Felicity Jones is delightful as the rebellious Amelia, demonstrating an abundance of charm and mischief that enchants the audience from the first scene. Yet under her playful charisma, Jones also manages to display an underlying sense of grief that torments the character, making Amelia feel more human and relatable to the viewer.
Redmayne has a much simpler role as the well-spoken, restless James, but does a solid job of avoiding the stereotypes that often come with such a character. The chemistry between the two is impressively alluring, with Jones and Redmayne’s history in previous films helping them to develop a natural, convincing dynamic that, despite the filmmakers resisting the temptation to make this an outright love story, has you openly rooting for them as a couple.
So, while the film fails in its attempts to achieve greatness, this is still a gorgeous, immersive and interesting adventure, led by two of the finest British actors working today. While some disappointing storytelling decisions frustrate the momentum of the movie, there is still more than enough to keep the audience entertained for the relatively short runtime (1 hour and 40 minutes). It may not reach the stars, but it’s certainly up there with some of the most enjoyable films of the year.
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The Aeronauts reaches for the stars, but some frustrating storytelling decisions means it falls just short of greatness.
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