The Aeronauts (12A)
Every so often – if you’re lucky – you see a film star who takes your breath away and immerses you in their ambience. Felicity Jones is that person here.
She’s Amelia Wren, the widow of an aeronaut. She’s trying to prove to herself that she can overcome her fears of travelling in an air balloon after he died in one.
She reaches so many layers of expressiveness it’s difficult to even think about listing them. Her face is like a prism reflecting any emotion she wants to put into it. It’s a face of an overwhelming translucence. One wonders what Leonardo Da Vinci would have made of it. I dare you not to be captivated by it after seeing this film.
She isn’t the only wonderful thing a bout it. Eddie Redmayne, reuniting with her after their dual Oscar nominations for The Theory of Everything (he won), is also exemplary as her co-pilot. He plays the scientist James Glaisher.
He donates many scenes to her. Great stars sometimes show their quality by allowing their co-stars to shine. He bounces her vulnerability off his own insecurities.
As the film begins in 1862 they’re embarking on a mission to fly higher than anyone has ever done before. At this point she behaves more like a giddy entertainer than a pioneering meteorologist but after they run into trouble her initial flightiness – no pun intended – is replaced by immense reserves of grit.
The director Moss Hart once said of Julie Andrews: “She has that British strength that makes you wonder why they lost India.” Jones has it here. Watching her hitting the apex of the balloon to puncture it so she can create an air bubble is a real ‘top ‘o the world, ma’ moment (as James Cagney might have put it).
We see many films these days with high-tech special effects in space capsules and whatnot but as thFe scholar Lope de Vega put it, all you really need for drama is “two boards and a passion”. Or in this case, two aeronauts and a passion.
It’s man (and woman) against the elements, a resounding parable of resilience. Not many directors could keep us gripped for 100 minutes on such a flimsy plotline but Tom Harper , with the aid of flashbacks and George Steel’s enchanting cinematography, does so here.
It’s a delightful film in every possible way. It conveys both exhilaration and fear as the indomitable pair fight storms, falling air pressure and their own demons.
As someone who gets vertigo from licking air mail stamps I found myself on the edge of my seat for the scenes where they’re whirled out of the balloon to almost certain death before miraculously rescuing themselves.
We take weather forecasts for granted today, forgetting the people who risked their lives to make them possible.
You’ll remember them after seeing this. And you’ll remember the face of Felicity Jones. I could look at it forever.