“My, my, is the octane in this flight high or what?” is a question raised often throughout this at-altitude Felicity Jones—Eddie Redmayne reunion, not as husband-and-wife but as pilot-and-passenger (still with an affinity to solve life’s mysteries, though). But each time that the query surfaces, clearer is the realization that The Aeronauts is an action-adventure disguised as a period piece, its final form a thrilling rollercoaster ride when the makeup is a cinematic telling of a historical achievement.
Does it hurt the narrative? Yes. Does it hurt the experience? No.
In The Aeronauts’ fall to make its two characters’ motivations worthy of attention — for Redmayne’s James Glaisher, he has crucial reasons to predict the weather, but they are fed to viewers with the emphasis of throwaways; for Jones’ Amelia Rennes, she is exhibit A of a farewell to facts by replacing Glaisher’s actual aeronaut Henry Coxwell and by not being a whole person but the result of melding Sophie Blanchard with Margaret Graham — it compensates with the highest of highs in rendering the contents of the journey. All of them, wondrous and hazardous. It truly is a group effort to create this magic: Mark Eckersley’s editing by default tosses out the lulls, Steven Price’s score stays heroic and brings Gravity to the 1860s, and George Steel’s absorbing photography successfully transforms the sky from a space we would pay minute attention to into one we should give it all to explore. And that’s the highlight of the highlights in The Aeronauts — a visual style that treats the blue above like a Narnia or Pandora, or the sixth circle of hell when storms ahoy or the hypoxia-inducing cold sets in.
You can immediately tell where director Tom Harper has more love for; in comparison to the earthbound bits where James is a voice not worth listening to in the scientific community and Amelia is close to her late husband’s memories, the skyward ones progress at a more concerned pace and are rendered with more care. Like the on-screen duo, Harper feels bogged down when Jack Thorne’s script turns back the clock and asks the drama to descend.
The ping-pong beats of the narrative and discrepancy in quality become noticeable, as a result, but they turn out to be not that severe of a rip. The main conversation will still be about how The Aeronauts is an unexpected blockbuster (and that it is such a natural in that arena) but at least we’ll carve out asides for matters that Thorne quickly flies over such as systemic patriarchy, science-induced social responsibility and the need to rebel against reflexive gatekeeping. In those chats, there is room to interpret Coxwell’s absence not as a brow-raiser but a primer to think about the pioneers deem too lowly to be recorded for posterity (or unworthy of complete recording). Accuracy seekers will be rattled, but it’d also be wise to not let the rattling blind them from Jones’ impassioned performance that makes Amelia — easily — both the film’s star and the push toward it, to spin off of a line from James’ friend (played by Yesterday’s Hamesh Patel and who, with more intensity in the writing, would have given merit to the discussion of POCs’ complementary involvement in innovations). That being said, it is slightly awkward when only one person is shiny and shining — or stays shinier and outshining — in an it-takes-two scenario.
But with the way Harper moves and shakes the film, the chance is high that we will only come to this conclusion once the spectacle has ceased — or when The Aeronauts ends. As odd as it may be to deboard a worldview-altering occasion detecting no alteration to the worldview, it’d be a lie to say that the flight wasn’t a heartstopper.