As my cinema bookings start to be cancelled, and upcoming releases delayed as part of the chaos that’s currently unfolding globally, I thought it time to start tackling some of those streaming site watch-lists that have been slowly growing in size over recent years. First up, a movie that I managed to miss late last year when released in cinemas, and is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
The Aeronauts is set in the 1860s and sees Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, last seen together playing husband and wife in The Theory of Everything, reuniting for a story that is inspired by true events. Redmayne plays James Glaisher, a scientist studying and presenting theories surrounding weather prediction, in particular how a trip to the skies in a gas balloon could help us to understand more about it. It’s a science very much in it’s infancy, which is why Glaisher has become such a laughing stock among his peers within the science community, all of whom declare meteorology to be fortune telling rather than science. Felicity Jones plays the fictional character of Amelia Wren, an aeronaut who lost her husband in a balloon accident and has been convinced by Glaisher to return to the skies and join him as pilot onboard the balloon as they explore some of his theories.
The movie begins with a large crowd who have gathered in London to watch the departure of the Glaisher and Wren. Glaisher is making some last minute checks and adjustments to the numerous pieces of equipment that will provide all of the data and readings he needs while they ascend up into the clouds, while Wren is currently nowhere to be seen. When she does eventually arrive, she’s brash and loud, making a big entrance and playing up to the crowds, entertaining them with cartwheels and her parachuting dog. “Do you take anything seriously?” Glaisher asks.
As the balloon gently sets off, we get a beautiful view of 1860s London and a simple on-screen graph begins plotting the duration of their journey against their current height, something which returns every so often to keep us nicely updated with their progress. Before this expedition, the greatest altitude ever reached by a human being was 23,000ft, a record achieved by a French team. So, in addition to gaining some valuable scientific data along the way, there is the added incentive to try and beat the French too!
The whole expedition is followed pretty much in real time, but broken up by a series of flashbacks which give us some additional insight into our main characters and what brought them together. A look at the balloon trip which resulted in the death of her husband shows us just how seriously Amelia takes her role on this particular adventure. Meanwhile, we get more of a glimpse into the ridicule Glaisher received from his scientific colleagues, and an introduction to his dementia suffering father (Tom Courtenay).
As beautiful and exhilarating as it is to see the balloon as it continues up through the clouds and storms, floating peacefully through blue skies and swarms of butterflies, it wouldn’t be much of a movie without some additional drama and tension to spice things up. So, as Glaisher and Wren argue about whether to push on way beyond the 23,000ft record or begin their descent, the temperature drops down to five degrees, and snow and ice begin to form on the balloon and basket. The thinning oxygen and cold temperatures starts to affect their judgement, their equipment and their health, and would you believe it, neither of them thought to bring along their gloves either!
When the pigeons they’ve brought along for sending instrument readings back down to base either start to die, or drop like rocks when launched from the balloon basket, it’s clear that it’s time to start heading back down. But, a problem with the balloon means that Wren must venture outside the basket and up on top of the balloon itself, in some of the most vertigo inducing scenes I’ve seen since watching The Walk on the big screen.
The Aeronauts was a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting. It’s two stars, as you’d expect, more than capably carry the story and are both hugely entertaining. The effects used for rendering the balloon and it’s surroundings, particularly during adverse weather conditions, are very effective and at times had me on the edge of my seat too.