Depending upon your proclivities, The Aeronauts might either energize your sense of discovery or exacerbate your fear of heights and/or flying.
Either way, this airborne adventure is compelling even if it rarely soars, shining a worthwhile — if highly embellished — spotlight on a true-life 19th century meteorological pioneer.
While we appreciate the convenience of having ample weather data at our fingertips, that wasn’t the case in the age of James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), who was best known for his advancements in recording and predicting weather through ballooning.
The film chronicles his most famous one-day voyage in 1962, when Glaisher teamed with a brash pilot named Amelia (Felicity Jones) on a two-person mission to ascend to historic altitudes of more than 30,000 feet.
“History will be made, and you will all be a part of it,” Amelia proclaims to the London crowd gathered to watch their launch. As it turns out, she was at least half right.
Both of them are using the balloon as a vehicle for conquering their personal demons and proving their worth to doubters — Glaisher to a skeptical scientific community, and Amelia as a woman in a male-dominated profession — but at what cost?
Their perilous climb to new heights leaves them unprepared for the freezing temperatures or scarcity of oxygen (surprisingly, wind isn’t much of an issue). A harrowing thunderstorm sequence conveys the inherent sense of claustrophobic terror.
Anyone familiar with the source material will have to overlook egregious historical inaccuracies in the screenplay. Amelia’s character is entirely fictional, for example, and Glaisher was actually in his 50s at the time of the depicted events.
Still, the performances garner sympathy for the characters despite some lapses in common sense, as Redmayne and Jones reclaim some of their endearing chemistry from The Theory of Everything.
As directed by Tom Harper (Wild Rose), the film sometimes struggles to dramatize the more peaceful happenings in the sky, during which all of the action is confined to a basket not much larger than an elevator shaft.
Even those with strong stomachs might get a little queasy after seeing what happens when they reach cruising altitude without the benefit of cabin pressure. Perhaps it’s fortunate that The Aeronauts is not in 3D.