Granger on Film: ‘The Aeronauts’ is visually splendid
In the mood for escapist adventure? See this saga about two of the most intrepid explorers in the history of ballooning.
In 1862, pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) enlisted daredevil balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) to fly higher than anyone in history, taking off from London’s Vauxhall Pleasure Garden. Their backgrounds and how they met are revealed in flashbacks.
While advancing knowledge about the weather and breaking records, they faced a myriad of physical and emotional challenges.
While Glaisher was a founding member of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, the character of Wren is a composite of several pilots, particularly France’s flamboyant Sophie Blanchard, who set off fireworks from her balloon at night.
For authenticity, director Tom Harper, who co-wrote with Jack Thorne, had a replica 19th-century gas balloon built and filmed aerial scenes in actual flight and in a studio with blue screens. To chronicle their reactions to higher elevations, Redmayne and Jones worked in a “cold box,” a confined space that lowered the temperature to below freezing, so their shivers, visible breath and glassy eyes are real.
To replicate Wren’s physicality, Jones spent six months working with a trainer to build the core strength needed to hang off ropes and she trained with an aerialist to learn acrobatics and trapeze. Both Jones and Redmayne went to Germany to learn about gas air ballooning from experts: father-son aeronauts Willy and Benni Elmers.
Cinematographer George Steel captures dizzying visuals, allowing the audience to experience what soaring above Earth must have felt like. Particularly memorable interludes include their encounter with a cloud of butterflies and Wren’s perilous climb up the balloon’s exterior to release a frozen gas valve.
Initially, this film was planned in spectacular IMAX but that didn’t work out. Now, it’s best seen on the big screen in theaters before debuting on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 20th.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Aeronauts” is a visually splendid 7, saluting a brave woman who was happiest in the clouds.
Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.