Director – Tom Harper
Cast – Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Himesh Patel
The hiring of Steven Price to compose the score for The Aeronauts, the new Amazon film that is basically a period remake of Gravity, for which Price won an Academy Award, is either purely coincidental or cleverly orchestrated.
Price’s music, despite more obvious attractions such as the breathtaking visuals and the strong central performances, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of a film that is brimming with technical excellence. Reuniting Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones for the first time on screen since The Theory of Everything, The Aeronauts is also a film about human ambition, although it being sneakily retrofitted as a feminist fable might be morally questionable to some.
Watch The Aeronauts trailer here:
Jones’ character, Amelia Rennes, is reportedly a composite of several historical figures who were involved in early aeronautical experiments with hot air balloons. She wasn’t, however, a part of the historic flight that this film dramatises.
This isn’t entirely unusual. Several films have done this in the past. Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty was also a composite of several men and women who were involved in the global manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. The crucial difference is this: a real human being accompanied the aeronaut James Glaisher on his momentous 1862 gas balloon flight, and that person, Henry Coxwell, has been omitted entirely. To put matters in perspective, imagine Damien Chazelle axing Buzz Aldrin from First Man and replacing him with a fictional character.
It’s a bizarre move, one that does little else than serve as a distraction from the quiet achievements of a very well-made movie, and Jack Thorne’s inventive screenplay. Thorne, the genius British writer who has been involved with shows such as Skins and This is England, and also the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, frames the story around Glaisher and Rennes’ maiden flight. While the airborne sequences unfold, essentially in real time, Thorne seamlessly weaves in flashbacks to flesh out the characters and to tell their stories leading up to the historic moment.
Curiously, both Glaisher and Rennes were mocked for their obsessions, regardless of gender. Although Rennes certainly had a more difficult time convincing her family to allow her to pursue her goals. Her tragic relationship with her husband, which is inspired by a true story, is the film’s most emotionally resonant arc. But as strong as Jones is in her part, Redmayne’s natural timidity does his character no favours.
The film’s stunning aerial sequences, gloriously shot by cinematographer George Steel and elevated tremendously by impeccable visual effects, didn’t deserve the Amazon Prime treatment. It is quite ironic, and considerably depressing, that a film that begs to be seen on an IMAX screen will probably be consumed on mobile phones. But the future of entertainment is handheld, and it’s here to stay.
Particularly thrilling is the film’s final set-piece, in which a delirious Glaisher and Rennes attempt to initiate their descent. Not only is it physically gruelling — the weather is below freezing and the air is thin — but the duo must also come to an agreement about when to quit and turn back around; they’re in uncharted territory, with no idea of what to expect. Director Tom Harper deftly dials up the tension parallel to the balloon’s ascent, and arrives at an emotional crescendo when the aeronauts are finally confronted by their hubris.
It’s a character piece, ultimately; a legitimate winner from a studio that has been somewhat overshadowed by Netflix when it comes to awards season fare.