Review by C.J. Bunce

At one level The Aeronauts is a welcome reminder of how much humans take the science and technological achievements of their forbearers for granted.  It is a harrowing adventure, heart-pounding like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (the story of a climb to the top of Mount Everest), and will leave you feeling like you, too, have spent a few hours dangling from the top of a temporarily frozen gas balloon on a record-breaking flight in 1862.  And the Mount Everest comparison is no joke, as the balloonists soon realized what happens to the body on a climb that high was happening to them, including the addled brain from hypoxia.  Of course this flight was 91 years before Edmund Hillary made his record-breaking ascent at 29,029 feet, about 6,000 feet lower than the real-life flight documented in The Aeronauts, so everything they learned on their balloon flight was new.

The real-life scientist James Glaisher is played by Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and the balloon pilot–a fictional composite named Amelia Rennes–is played by Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)–reuniting both Oscar-nominated stars of the historical, scientist biopic The Theory of Everything (which earned Redmayne his first Oscar).  Glaisher seeks to prove that the study of weather can result in the possible prediction of weather and seeks the expert aeronaut Rennes to partner with him so he can prove his theories to the doubting aristocrats of London.  To do that he needed to get higher into the sky than ever before.  Rennes’s role was based on actual aeronaut balloonists Henry Coxwell and Margaret Graham, with even more elements based on Sophie Blanchard, who was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist, and, like Jones’s character, became famous as aeronaut following her husband’s death.

The Aeronauts is based on the death-defying feats of aeronauts in Richard Holmes’ 2013 book Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.  Since the real flight itself lasted less than two hours aloft, the film is a great character study and closed room story, with an undeniable friendly, non-romantic chemistry between the two leads.  But it’s Jones’s circus-esque, Flying Wallendas-like showmanship and stunts that will make you want to come right back and watch it again.  Inspiring, soaring, and adventurous, it’s the kind of film you’ll want to show kids to get them excited about being all they can be.

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