‘Gravity, but Victorian’, is an intriguing pitch and, visually, The Aeronauts delivers on this strange, exciting promise. As Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne journey through the skies in a giant hot air balloon, Wild Rose director Tom Harper conjures some beautiful environments and pulse-racing thrills during storms and freefalls. They make for the kind of visuals that demand big-screen viewing.
Unfortunately though, it’s very hard to recommend that you actually spend your money on The Aeronauts, its dialogue and structure seemingly determined to undo the excellent technical work at every turn. Jack Thorne’s script is a nightmare of cringe-inducing one-liners and leaden expository dialogue, every bit of characterisation and relationship building done entirely through telling while showing nothing interesting. Even in the air, we can’t fully escape dull, unnatural conversations, and though Jones brings a compelling intensity to her adventurous balloon pilot, Redmayne’s scientist is lost beneath the bad writing.
Compounding this is poor editing and a horrible structure. Opening on the launch of the balloon that plans to fly higher than ever in human history in order to study the weather, a series of flashbacks interrupt the rhythm. The Aeronauts is insistent on reiterating information about its characters’ lives that we’ve learned on the balloon, and the attempts at ‘will this expedition get funding/be able to fly’ drama don’t work when the previous scene has taken place 20,000 feet in the air. With the gimmick that the balloon ride happens in real time, building to it through a more conventional narrative and then just sticking with it may have been more effective.
There’s a lot of potential to The Aeronauts, and somewhere there exists a really great version of this film. Yet, what should be a rollicking good time at the pictures is instead an aggravatingly schlonky trudge.
CAST: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay
DIRECTOR: Tom Harper
WRITERS: Jack Thorne (screenplay and story), Tom Harper (story)
SYNOPSIS: Pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) find themselves in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a hot air balloon.