“The Aeronauts” begins with a man plummeting through slate grey clouds, his descent soundtracked by the sound of panicked breathing.
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The scene cuts to Amelia Wren, played by Felicity Jones (On the Basis of Sex, The Theory of Everything), as she expels herself from a jolting carriage to catch her breath on the side streets of Victorian London.
Amelia recovers, and races towards the stadium to meet her colleague, the meteorologist and ornery scientist, James Glaisher, played by Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables, The Danish Girl).
It’s 1862 and the city of London is alive with the spirit of scientific discovery and exploration. James Glaisher is a serious academic who prioritizes his work on the atmosphere and weather patterns over social etiquette and fashion. Amelia, a revolutionary female pilot, is plagued by the memories of her husband’s death during their famous last aerial exhibition.
James confronts Amelia with the hope of working together to construct an air balloon that will allow them to break France’s elevation record of 23,000 feet.
“The Aeronauts” is loosely based off Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air: An Unconventional History of Ballooning by Richard Holmes. In reality, James Glaisher was accompanied by Henry Tracey Coxwell, but director Tom Harper appeals to a contemporary audience by casting a female aeronaut.
Felicity Jones’ Amelia is fiery and multifaceted; she portrays her character’s grief with delicate realism.
She dons an outlandish bright blue dress and chalky white face paint to meet the massive audience that cheers for her and James at the London stadium. She knows how an audience likes to be entertained, but more importantly she knows how people expect her to behave. Amelia projects an image to her eager fans to disguise a deep ache that manifests as she develops a closer bond with James.
Redmayne’s James is a hard nut, but Amelia’s emotional perseverance encourages him to care for people as much as he cares for his calculations, and their chemistry is palpable.
“The Aeronauts” is suspenseful from the moment Amelia and James ascend in their air balloon. The stunning visual effects make every scene magnificent: storm clouds are charcoal-black and roll in with alarming speed as wind violently whips our protagonists. The audience is periodically presented with a clock tracking the aeronauts’ altitude and travel time. The echoing sound of the clock’s ticking is an ominous suggestion that everything can go disastrously wrong at any moment.
“The Aeronauts” will appeal to a varied audience. It’s packed with action and evokes the wild hunger for adventure prevalent during the Victorian Age. the period drama is undoubtedly a love story, too: the audience learns more about James’ and Amelia’s personal struggles and heartbreaks through a series of flashbacks and witnesses them grow closer as they press on in the sky.
With both style and substance, “The Aeronauts” takes the action-drama subgenre to new heights.
The Aeronauts is AVAILABLE to STREAM
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Kailey Rhone makes use of her English degree working as a production editor in the world of academic publishing. She can be found rewatching “Downton Abbey” and sipping on another cup of Earl Grey when she’s not writing about the intersection of feminism and Jane Austen’s novels. Her work can be found in Persuasions.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see The Period Films List,with the best British, historical and costume dramas sorted by era. You may also want to see our list of The Portrayal of Grief in Period Dramas.