The Aeronauts makes the same mistakes as many films—it prioritises style over substance. That isn’t to say that Tom Harper’s fourth film is devoid of all substance, we just cannot invest in his world. The main character is bland and unimpressive, whilst the story itself is barely worth following.
Eddie Redmayne is undeniably a fantastic actor, as shown by his performances in The Danish Girl and The Theory of Everything. Yet James Glaisher, Redmayne’s character, is not nearly engaging enough to be a convincing leading role. His background and motivations are poorly realised with a lack of interesting information about him. One instance is his fascination with space and in exploring the unknown. Only one short scene with his friend is used to show this, set years before the events of the film take place. This begs the question, why this desire? Is there anything beyond impressing his colleagues that he is interested in proving?
Several plot points are hardly touched upon, and more focus would have made Glashier a perhaps more engaging role to watch. His family dynamic, for instance, is forgotten about for most of the film, yet there is clear emotional baggage there that could be used to explain the character's need to be noticed by his contemporaries. Therefore, Glaisher’s portrayal is unsuitable in conveying a task of this magnitude all by himself. Felicity Jones’ Amelia Wren is thus forced into being the saving grace of this film; the two stars bask in a lively chemistry that brings The Aeronauts to a greater height than before. Wren, still reeling from a personal tragedy, joins Glaisher on his goal to fly higher than anyone else in history. The reasons she does so are fleshed out and believable enough to take on the risks associated with a task of this magnitude.
Even though Jones’ character somewhat salvages the film, it is the stylistic choices that make the film a worthwhile watch. Firstly, the cinematography is a visual wonder. Tom Harper and George Steel do a marvelous job at capturing how this was a huge event at the time, both culturally and in the field of science—and that is reflected in the film's look. The use of wide-angle shots of the balloon among the clouds, is truly amazing and for these scenes alone, makes the film worth seeing in a cinema.
The core, conducted by the acclaimed Steven Price of Gravity and Baby Driver contributes to The Aeronauts's scope and nervous tension. This is achieved effectively in the film’s most dramatic moments. The sharpness that the score increases and decreases in grandiosity in such short periods prove that it works alongside the beautiful visuals. However, despite being a visual delight, the film is not engaging enough to make it re-watchable. The lack of interesting characters ensures that The Aeronauts will not be remembered as much more than a grand spectacle. This is a disappointing outcome considering the undeniable talent within the main cast and crew. The Aeronauts may be an enjoyable one-off watch, but it never reaches into that upper echelon of film that it had the potential of doing.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor, and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor