It’s not uncommon knowledge that some movies claiming to be “based on a true story” aren’t always accurate. Sure, the broad strokes are there and make for a story compelling enough to be green-lit by the big shots in Hollywood, but everyone takes creative liberties when telling these types of stories. A few years ago, I went to see a movie called The Danish Girl, which starred Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. That movie claimed to be based on a true story, despite its source material being mostly fictitious, going as far as to make people up specifically for storytelling purposes.
I bring this up because Redmayne has another movie coming out called The Aeronauts, which also claims to be based on a true story despite once again taking creative liberties. It’s a shame because the movie itself is a solid adventure film with some good performances and visual effects whenever they are up in the sky.
The Aeronauts comes from director Tom Harper (I honestly had to double check to make sure they didn’t mean Tom Hooper) and tells the story of James Glaisher and Amelia Rennes, two young adventurers who go up in a hot air balloon to study the sky. Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) believes that by going up into the sky, he can predict the weather. This idea is laughed off by The Royal Society. He seeks out a pilot to help him prove his theories and meets Rennes (Felicity Jones) who agrees to help him out. Throughout the movie, people try to persuade the two aeronauts to give up and go for something more conventional.
The movie open with the two at a festival about to go up in their balloon. Rennes decides to put on a bit of a show for the audience before going up, much to the dismay of Glaisher. This, along with the flashbacks that are sprinkled throughout the movie, give the audience an idea of what kind of adventurers they are. Both are determined, but Glaisher comes off a bit more serious than Rennes. The two play off each other really well, which makes sense since this is the second time Redmayne and Jones have starred opposite each other (the first time being The Theory of Everything, which earned Redmayne his first Oscar).
Whenever the two are up in the air, the movie is at its most breathtaking. They’re boasted by some visual effects that are quite impressive given its budget. When the film flashes back to scenes of them meeting on the ground, however, it becomes another dull British period piece. I know its purpose is to establish their characters, but I found myself dozing off whenever these scenes were happening. Thankfully, the majority of the film takes place in the balloon, and some scenes of peril in the third act make up for the boring people on the ground.
Now I mentioned earlier that the film takes creative liberties with this true story. The most major one is that the character of Amelia Rennes is just that; a character. She was made up for story purposes and for the sake of giving the audience a female character to relate to. James Glaisher is a real person, but he took this journey with an aeronaut by the name of Henry Coxwell, who would later help save Glaisher’s life during the ascent and descent. I thought that creating a female scientist for the sake of connecting to contemporary audiences was some form of pandering, especially when there are plenty of female scientists who are not only real, but probably have an equally compelling story to tell.
Regardless of historical accuracy, The Aeronauts is still a solid adventure movie. At 100 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It was nice seeing Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones back on screen together, and I can appreciate that the movie didn’t try to force a romance between these two. Serious issues with pacing keep me from calling this a great movie, but its visual deserves to be seen on the big screen. If it’s playing in a theater near you, seek it out. In the end, I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen before it hit Prime Video. I don’t know if it would’ve had the same impact if I was watching it at home.
The Aeronauts is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video