Tuesday, October 08, 2019

THE AERONAUTS - BFI London Film Festival 2019 - Day Seven

Despite my cynicism at another of those classy awards-bait earnest turns from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, I am overjoyed to report that THE AERONAUTS is an absolutely captivating film, with characters that I deeply cared about, stunning visuals, and a wonderful message.  In these dark times, it's just so refreshing to have a film that's all about how science benefits humanity, and that it's worth risking your life for.  It's also refreshing to have a film featuring a strong female lead who doesn't confirm to society's misogynistic template of where she should find fulfilment and happiness. A couple of times I feared the film might want to give us a schmaltzy Hollywood ending but it resisted.  Science is enough! We don't need hokey romance.

So what's it all about? THE AERONAUTS is based on the memoirs of the real-life meteorologist James Glaisher, who in the 1860s flew a hot air balloon to 37,000 feet, breaking by far the previous record, and gathering all sorts of useful and wondrous scientific data.  In real life, he did it with a co-pilot who was male, but the film posits that his pilot was a female - Amelia Wren, who had flown with her now deceased husband Pierre.  In this version of events, while Glaisher (Redmayne) is a keen scientist, he lacks practical experience and very much needs Amelia's help.  Amelia (Jones) is a talented pilot but also a pragmatic entertainer.  She realises that she almost has to be a circus performer entertaining the crowd.  Throughout their journey, it's Amelia who is in control, both technically and emotionally. And this really is her story more than James'.

I really loved how the aeronautical experiment takes place in real time, with the height and time passed showed in a graph on screen. The production design, including this device, is all stunningly beautiful, and the cinematography and vis-effects are wondrous, and never feel fake.  The film really filled me with the excitement of being above the cloud line, I was alive to every twist and turn, and felt the excitement of every challenge. 

So kudos to all involved behind the lens - especially director and co-writer Tom Harper (WILD ROSE), to co-writer Jack Thorne (WAR BOOK), cinematographer George Steel (WILD ROSE) and production designers (David Hindle and Christian Huband). 

THE AERONAUTS has a running time of 101 minutes, and played Toronto, Telluride and London 2019. It will be released in the UK on November 6th and in the USA on December 6th.

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