By Daniel Paiz
The return of Cypher Flicks Reviews is upon us, and it returns on the coattails of a film floating past our expectations in the form of 2019’s The Aeronauts. This Amazon Prime original film features the paring of Star Wars: Rogue One‘s Felicity Jones with the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them‘s Eddie Redmayne. Like many “self-contained” films before it with world of sky as a background, these two bring to life what might’ve been a less than thrilling idea. There are a few caveats to that claim, though (spoilers will be scattered about, but this film came out in 2019 so I don’t know what you’re expecting!).
Preparing to take flight
Jones’ character Amelia is frankly front and center of this film. That’s not to say that Redmayne’s James Glaisher character isn’t nearly the reason for history repeating itself. However, Amelia has the most growth in this movie. Stung by the death of her fellow adventuring pilot husband Pierre through selfless if not also stupid means, she hasn’t recovered from it. She sulks about, dragged about by her sister Antonia (Phoebe Fox). Who knew that going to parties would offer her a chance to get back in the saddle, er, basket again.
Glaisher has the book smarts to try and prove that weather can be predicted; take a moment, this is 1862 in England and such claims draw eyerolls and laughter from the scientific community. He just doesn’t have the know-how of getting up into the sky; enter Amelia. For the times, there’s not as much misogyny as one might expect. The undertones are clear and present however in certain areas when it comes to the treatment of this well-known pilot. What’s truly dangerous however is ascending higher and higher into the Earth’s atmosphere, as the duo learn about the different layers of the atmosphere (yet to be known of at this point in time) as well as its effects on the body and mind.
Flashbacks happen repeatedly to Amelia, as we learn why she both hid from and sought out a return trip to the skies. Plenty of weather issues lead to near doom a few times, before the duo thuddingly return to the ground as changed people.
Fate is what you make of it
Amelia doesn’t have to accept that her life is over because her husband died to save her. It is quite difficult to know where to go when someone you care so deeply for is no longer with you. Picking up the pieces of one life takes time. There is no one way to grieve, one way to learn from it, or one way to react. Death is as much a part of life as breathing is, so figuring out how to acknowledge it will lay a foundation for dealing with both life and death in the future.
Felicity Jones does a great job of conveying a range of emotions that feel natural. Nothing is over the top, and her hesitancy to share her past with Glaisher is duly understood. It makes for an interesting dynamic when Amelia is stuck working through her past while Redmayne’s character is too fearful of different future outcomes. Perhaps that’s why these two are brought together in the first place. Sure, both are in need of a boost by way of hot air balloon; but, it feels as if the balloon journey is what brings them both to where they need to be.
The supporting cast knows its role
To be honest, there are really only three supporting roles that advance this movie. As mentioned above you have Amelia’s sister, Antonia (Fox). Next you have Glaisher’s best friend and co-conspirator, John Trew (played wonderfully by Himesh Patel). Believe it or not the third character of importance is the weather.
Perhaps you might’ve thought that James’ parents, Arthur and Ethel Glaisher (well played by Tom Courtenay and Anne Reid) would be who else I listed. While both are pivotal to the chip on James’ shoulder to prove himself to the world, their past influence on James isn’t as strong as I feel it is from Antonia and John. I know of several people including myself where familial pressure did place some form of chip on one’s upper body. Both parents mean well, and Arthur is clearly dealing with some cognitive deterioration.
The weather steals the third spot because frankly, the film is actually about the weather itself. Predicting weather patterns was deemed to be something science had no business doing. There were no patterns, there’s nothing to learn from taking a balloon to such heights, the usual rigamarole. The skies prove just how much knowledge there is to gleam from the clouds and the precipitation and the butterfly migration. Setting can come across as mundane in some films; that is not the case here because without it there is no story.
There’s really no reason not to watch this film. It likely did not win awards for having the most mind-bending story, or an outstanding individual performance. That’s because it didn’t have to. The Aeronauts is a handful of pieces that fit nicely together and tell a story about overcoming loss, doubt, and uncovering the unknown. It helps there are plenty of visually pleasing scenes scattered across the story, too.
Take a break from all of the blockbuster franchises out there and check out a well done film translated from its novel origins. You just might embark on a story you didn’t expect to enjoy.