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TIFF 2019 Review: The Aeronauts – “A solid, science-based drama”

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Image Courtesy of TIFF

Knowing whether or not to bring an umbrella when you leave the house in the morning is something we take for granted. It wasn’t that long ago that people thought it was impossible to predict the weather. But how do you make the depiction of the start of meteorology interesting? You put the story in the hands of director Tom Harper (Wild Rose) who manages to make a visually stunning period spectacle in The Aeronauts.

In London, 1862, a scientist named James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to prove his theory that he can predict the weather. He sees it as a life-saving measure, being able to tell when a drought or a flood might hit. His hypotheses, however, have made him a laughing stock of the scientific community. There is only one way that he can prove his theories and that is to take to the skies and to fly higher than anyone before him.

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Enter Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), a hot air balloon pilot who on the surface is all showmanship, but whose ability to draw a crowd is the only way to secure funding (side note: the dog is okay!). Indeed all of London seems excited to watch them break records, but Glaisher is only interested in taking his measurements and gathering information. As the balloon climbs higher and the oxygen gets thinner, the pair encounter dangerous conditions that threaten not only his experiments but also their lives.

Seeing Redmayne and Jones reunited on screen after their successful turns in The Theory of Everything is a pleasure. The two are wonderful scene partners which is integral to this project since the vast majority of the film takes place with the pair in a small balloon basket. While Theory of Everything was mostly a showcase for Redmayne, Jones is truly the hero here. Her role requires not just emotional strength but physicality as well. It’s nice to see her take the reins and truly shine.

The visuals of the film are quite arresting. If you suffer from acrophobia, then beware that this film is likely to cause sweaty palms and anxiety (a person in my screening audibly gasped during one harrowing scene). Cinematographer George Steel (who also worked alongside Harper for Wild Rose) creates a vivid sky-scape that transports you. I recommend seeing this on the biggest screen possible, as small screen viewing will be doing the film a disservice.

You might never have thought you needed or wanted a hot-air balloon period film, but The Aeronauts may, in fact, surprise you. The ability to build considerable tension into something that is, at least in current times, seen as such a peaceful and slow-moving pursuit is admirable. With terrific turns from its lead actors, this is a solid, science-based drama whose visuals prove the sky’s the limit.

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