‘The Aeronauts’: A Glimpse at the Birth of Weather Exploration

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– By Maria Andress –

Released worldwide on Amazon Prime, The Aeronauts may look like an unlikely film to garner high praise; However, it is doing just that. Based on the book “Falling Upward: How We Took to the Air” by Richard Holmes and starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, this film is an excellent example of a period of historical discoveries, scientific in this sense, combined with a partially imaginative scenario to give the modern audience a glimpse of just how daring and what an accomplishment the beginning of air exploration was. 

Some may complain that scientist James Glaisher (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne) was actually saved by a male companion that day he took to the skies in the name of meteorology and that it was a feminist agenda that changed his pilot to a female Amelia. 

Audiences can certainly latch onto that viewpoint if they are looking for it. However, the plot itself is of such plausible development that unless one is up to snuff with aeronautical history or looking for feminist vibes, it is almost imperceptible aside from the usual historical fact that women in science and exploration were always a minority and somewhat of a sensational struggle. 

As for the historical accuracy, while it may be true that Amelia (played by Felicity Jones) is a fictional character, her story combines the historic, factual stories of multiple women aeronauts as well as other historical experiences of aeronautics of that time. The film is clearly not going for blind historical accuracy as much as it is taking a daring scientific achievement and turning it into a “what if” development of two characters who conquer new scientific horizons at the same time.

The real beauty of this film lies in its character development and visuals. In Amelia, the viewer is at first struck by a flippantly crowd-pleasing circus girl only to have that mask torn away in the atmosphere. Amelia is in fact a pilot who tried to achieve something so daring and so fast on a previous flight that she lost her husband and fellow pilot because he refused to lose her. James Glaisher, meanwhile, has never been in air but has pushed towards this moment all the studying years of his young life. When he has the chance, much to Amelia’s trepidation, he wants to push upward in the name of discovery and breaking records at all costs not realizing precisely what might be demanded in return. An adventure in a balloon away from the help of humans, made perilous by the changing atmosphere, and fraught with near death situations tears these two characters down to bare frames and reconstructs their stories bit by bit. It is gripping. 

The visuals contained in The Aeronauts are worth noting. Sound mixing adds both the musical element of suspense but also the realistic sounds or lack of sound that the sky contains. Special effects and CGI are not foolishly wasted but are used to bring about a realistic and stunning visual experience. Stylization and coloring of this period piece add depth, and the attention to minute details such as recording of data, use of instruments, and the CGI graphs adds credibility to the story. The same can be said for the combination of make-up, hair, wardrobe, and editing in making the audience aware of the tiniest factual elements of aeronautical exploration. 

Altogether, these elements drive forward a story, the main theme of which struggles with the idea of history repeating itself. Will Amelia be the source of another loss of life or allow someone else to become the source? James Glaisher brilliantly provides the answer to that, and the result of their journey proves that with a lot of courage and a little ingenuity the age of exploration can rise to new heights and defy the repetition of history a little more each day. Back when exploration was fueled by an actual need to preserve human life as well as wonder over the universe at the beginning of modern ease, The Aeronauts hints at the difference between the awe and strategy of old explorers and the overwhelming surge of utility and Tower-of-Babel syndrome that has since flooded the pursuit of science and modern living.

“Lord help the fool who said, you better quit while you’re ahead; A dreamer born is a hero bred on earth and up in heaven,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings in “Heroes and Heroines.” The Aeronauts echoes this sentiment in a visually stunning ride that is well worth its one hundred and one minute air time. 

 


About the Author

Maria Andress is a film production and acting alumna from JPCatholic (Class of ’17) who hails from the proud green and gold state of Wisconsin. She is currently working in film producing, and pursuing a career in period film production. She is also a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for a fascinating idea or historical tidbit that she can translate to story through the many mediums of art.

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