The Aeronauts, 2019.
Directed by Tom Harper.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox, Tom Courtenay, Tim McInnery, and Anne Reid.
A scientist theorising weather prediction teams up with a recently bereaved balloon pilot, embarking on an adventure to fly higher than ever previously flown by any human in history.
“One must make compromises in order to achieve greatness”. The Aeronauts is the story of struggling scientist James Glaisher, and his collaboration with hot air balloon pilot, or aeronaut, Amelia Wren. In a familiar tale of the arduous lengths real people throughout history went to in order to achieve something extraordinary, the two usually excellent leads flail with what they are given. Without a hint of irony, the actors fight harder against a poorly put together script than they do against the many dangers of the sky.
There is not anything particularly wrong with the performances of Eddie Redmayne (Glaisher) and Felicity Jones (Wren), it’s just that neither shine quite as brightly as they should. The film favours Wren in emotional range and screen time, though still Jones’ uncomfortable restraint is clear. The set pieces are eye widening and impressive, backed by oil painting-esque cinematography from George Steel and a rousing score by Steven Price, though director Tom Harper has a difficult time finding the pace of the film. Riddled as the script is with unevenness and gaudy, over-sentimentalised flashbacks; perhaps this is why the tension never truly builds to anything great.
All of Harper’s troubles can be traced back to a truly lazy script by Jack Thorne. At one point, Wren openly mocks the “conversational schedule” she and Glaisher are following, only to adhere to it and its contrived emotion moments later. It feels as if Thorne is ashamed of his own lack of ingenuity, and uncomfortable with letting the audience realise it for themselves. Nothing is new in the characters or their development, merely recycled from countless other films. The frustrating thing is the choice of the writer to alter history, to then merely tell a story riddled with unoriginality. The biggest difference to real life is Wren – the avian name itself a hint at Thorne’s lack of wit. She is based on Glaisher’s actual co-pilot Dr Henry Tracey Coxwell, but Thorne supplies no reasoning to suggest why he has made the decision to change the character’s name and gender, nor invent a laughably tragic backstory. If the filmmakers were happy to fabricate so much of this small pocket of history, and allow Thorne ultimately to fabricate it so poorly, it begs the question of whether there was any necessity to tell the story in the first place?
The Aeronauts is the latest in a swathe of biopics that favour cliché over truth. Every creative decision in the writing seems to fall on the side of crowd pleasing, which may be fine in most cases but here Thorne fails to hide his condescension. Adequate performances and direction never succeed in making up for the film’s purposelessness, making for a plot that induces at best yawns and at worst stifled giggles. Just like scientists, perhaps films must also make sacrifices to achieve greatness, or box office success at least. But creatively, no film should make this many.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★