The Aeronauts

Year: 2019
Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: Tom Harper
Writer: Richard Holmes/Tom Harper/Jack Thorne
Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Vincent Perez, Tom Courtenay

It's a bit of a shame this film only appeared on streaming services, because it's the very model of an effective big screen movie the way the final 45 minutes of Bob Zemeckis' The Walk was a few years ago.

Taking considerable liberties with the true story of meteorologist James Glaisher's pioneering balloon flight that broke the altitude record, we meet a feisty young woman, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), getting out of a hansom cab to vomit on the side of the road, apparently from an attack of nerves because of something she's about to do.

But when Amelia arrives at a fairground where she's going to pilot the balloon Glaisher is going to work in, it's all forgotten as she rides in with a flurry, working the crowd and proving her showmanship for the venture.

Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), by contrast, has no time for theatrics, there only to advance the science of weather prediction. He's aided on the ground by colleague John (Himesh Patel), perhaps standing in for the real life figure of Henry Tracey Coxwell who was Glaisher's real pilot and has been cut from this fictionalised account.

The trio bicker while they do their preparations, Amelia knowing it's the adulation of the gathered crowd that pays the bills and milking it for all its worth, and they're off.

Scenes of them navigating through a hair-raising storm, rising ever-higher and Glaisher passing out and going slightly mad when hypothermia sets in (that part's true, and he was rescued not by a female companion but Coxwell) are interspersed with backstory and flashback that's led them to be the highest people in the world.

Wren's tale involves her losing her beloved husband and former pilot in an earlier accident, Glaisher's is about him trying to convince appropriately stuffy, bearded and dismissive colleagues at the Royal Society about his belief that mankind can predict weather.

And it all comes amid some jaw-dropping set pieces of the tiny, 19th century balloon tossed this way and that in storm clouds, rising so far into the atmosphere they see stars, and Amelia climbing the outside of the balloon and fighting frostbite to open a frozen valve so they can finally descend.

It gets the blend of dramatic depth and adventurous thrills perfectly right (even if the characterisations are a bit thin), and even though neither Jones nor Redmayne have to do their most Oscar-worthy work, they're photogenic and have a nice chemistry to go along with some beautifully made VFX sequences.

It's a beautifully balanced old-time big screen romp... on Amazon Prime.

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