Needing something to do to kill time in an afternoon, myself and my boyfriend decided to go on the traditional date and head to the cinema. After a 5-minute conversation and a bit of scrolling through the internet, we decided the The Aeronauts was going to be that day’s winner (apparently Shaun the Sheep: Farmaggedon wasn’t a good enough option for Thomas but we’ll let that slide)
I went into this film completely blind. I hadn’t heard anything about it or the plot. I hadn’t even seen a trailer. Literally all I knew was the fact that it was about hot air balloons and that felicity Jones was in it. And that was something I could work with. Going in knowing nothing, I can’t say I had any expectations for the film. There was no hype train for me to be on and nothing that had piqued my interest beforehand. However, I can honestly say that I was blown away, pun intended.
The film follows Amelia Wren, a widowed “Daredevil” balloon pilot who teams up with James Glashier, a scientist determined to prove that the weather can be predicted. Their expedition to uncover that could change the world goes awry 7 miles high, and they find themselves in a fight for survival alone above the clouds.
So, lets dive right in; the pacing of this film was done perfectly. What could have potentially been 2 people in a basket talking about clouds for 2 hours. There were enough action sequences to keep things moving nicely, as well as so many twists and turns it definitely felt like you were on a rollercoaster. From savage storms they had to navigate out of, to Amelia throwing her dog out of the balloon (yes, I gasped. But don’t worry, there was a parachute.) It was punctuated by flashbacks to various points to the lead up of the expedition; following Glashier trying to convince the Royal Society to fund the experiment as well as Amelia’s journey that got her to the balloon. It was also very emotionally captivating too. Rather than seeing the action scenes as simply that, the film did an excellent job of tying you to the characters and watching the film at certain points became almost painful with the amount of anxiety in the scene. The thought of being stuck in the sky 30,000 feet in the air with nothing but a wicker basket and some silk makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. And so to visualise that on the big screen when things just kept going wrong was so deliciously awful, I could barely keep my eyes open. The survival of the pair was never guaranteed, and the dialogue kept referring to the fact that they might not return from their expedition, and I feel that really helped with building the tone of the film. I found myself genuinely worrying that they weren’t going to get out of it alive, at one point even turning to my boyfriend and whispering, “if he’s dead I’ll kill him”.
The main thing that I liked about it was it was different. It wasn’t the same kind of movie that we’re seeing at the moment. It was original and whimsical and just like nothing I’ve seen for a while. Felicity Jones does a fantastic job of portraying her character; she is very much a badass female character, but it never crosses the line to turning into the stereotypical “strong” woman as some scripts often do. She is genuinely fantastic and I’m just the tiniest bit in love with her. She is the woman with the plan who does everything she can to save the expedition and their lives – at one point climbing up the balloon 7 miles high and losing a shoe in the process. That’s not to say that Eddie Redmayne plays the bumbling idiot, he has plenty of his own merits as well. He is very passionate about his research and the expedition, as well as being far more than a loveable nerd where it matters.
Another incredibly refreshing thing about the movie was that THE TWO LEADS DIDN’T GET TOGETHER AT THE END. There was no romantic subplot, no sexual tension, not even the tiniest kiss. And that amazed and delighted me. Having two characters of the opposite gender who don’t really get on going on an epic adventure is the plot of so many films, always ending with the couple overcoming their differences and realising they loved each other all along. BUT THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN IN THIS FILM! There was even the perfect moment for a kiss where I fully expected them both to lean in, but there was nothing! I cannot understate how thrilled I am about this. Finally, a film where two people of the opposite gender are just friends. I was fully expecting it to happen, and I was ready for it, despite the fact it would have been a bit weird considering a lot of the film shows Amelia grieving for her husband, and so to be crying over him and immediately jump to Glashier would have just been a bit tacky. Like sure, Eddie Redmayne is attractive, but not when your husband’s tragic death that was a little bit your fault is still so fresh in your mind. But their romance never came and I breathed a sigh of relief leaving the cinema. Even though there was no romantic tension, that doesn’t mean to say the two leads didn’t have chemistry. In fact I think they worked together very well and definitely brought the film to new heights (pun intended again).This was probably helped in part by the fact the actors have worked together before, but there really were some really lovely touching moments between the pair as they brought the characters to life.
It was also a very pretty film. Set in Victorian England the costumes were stunning. All of the flashback scenes took place with characters in high society, and so some of the dresses were just stunning. There was a vaguely steampunk tone to the whole film, what with the hot air balloon, the scientific instruments and some of the costumes, all of which looked amazing on the screen. The cinematography in general was very soft, pretty and pastel at points. It’s very easy to make the open sky look beautiful, and they absolutely succeeded. I even found out in research afterwards that they filmed as much as they could actually in a balloon in the sky, which pleases me greatly and makes those shots even better. They used a few wide shots of the balloon in the entire sky, with no soundtrack behind them and these were so ethereal. A cut away from the action that made everything seem so insignificant, looking like a painting or even a toy. There was a clever use of graphics in the film too; showing on screen how many feet high they were, with a particularly tense moment of wondering whether the balloon would start descending was broken with a tick down of a altitude counter on screen. The whole journey was displayed as a graph at several points too (showing time and altitude on the axis) and was a very different way of doing it in my opinion, and really added to the steam punk vibes I was getting.
The one thing I was slightly disappointed by was that it wasn’t completely accurate when it came to the history. Whilst the film was based somewhat on true events, the particulars of the film were fiction. The story was a mash up of several flights detailed in Richard Holmes book Falling upwards: How we took to the air, mainly focusing on James Glashier and Henry Coxwell’s record breaking flight reaching 38,999 ft. However, quite obviously Coxwell did not make it into the film and was replaced with Amelia Rennes (Jones). Whilst Amelia’s character is based on many real female aeronauts and balloonists, I was a little bit disappointed she wasn’t real, as I was looking forward to researching her after watching the film. However, the fact it wasn’t completely accurate doesn’t bother me too much, as Amelia is still a very important and inspiring character, especially today when women and girls are being encouraged into STEM subjects.
In all, The Aeronauts was just dreamy. It had such an ethereal quality to it, all while being captivating and anxiety inducing in the best way possible. It was beautifully shot and there were so many lines in the script that have really stuck with me. I think it is impossible not to came away from this film with extreme wanderlust, as well as a healthy fear of heights, and I highly recommend you see it if you get the chance.