After her husband’s death in a ballooning accident, Amelia Wren was an aeronaut with no love for balloons. In fact, for a long time after Pierre’s demise, Amelia had no passion for anything. He had single-handedly introduced her to so much beauty in life. And when he was torn away from her, so was that beauty.
James Glashier, a generally overlooked scientist, didn’t have much of an eye for beauty in life. But he did have more than enough passion for several people. He was certain that if he could somehow fly high enough into the unknown skies above, he could bring back scientific readings and measurements that would unlock the secrets of weather itself.
Glashier was convinced that he could make 1862 a great year of discovery … except for the fact that he had no support for his theories from the scientific community. And he knew absolutely nothing about piloting a balloon.
In fact, all he did have in his favor was knowledge of a female balloonist who lived right there in London. She and her husband had been quite a famous aeronautic team at one point. And if Glashier could procure Amelia Wren’s aid, if she lent her showmanship and ballooning skills to the task, he could likely get his project off the ground.
From there it would just require some financing. Some skilled balloon makers. And literally little more than an hour to ascend high enough—some six or seven miles above ground should do it—to gather everything needed and validate everything he knew to be true.
They would make history. Together, a heart-broken balloonist and a fumbling weather-chaser could well change the world.
If, that is, they could also stay alive.
“You don’t change the world by simply looking at it, you change it by the way you choose to live it,” this movie tells us repeatedly. And that simple encouragement to involve yourself with the people around you and to reach for something you believe in is a solid takeaway.
In fact, the film suggests that reaching for a goal can take a number of forms. Glashier’s good friend John, for instance, isn’t jumping into balloons; but he’s just as instrumental in the success of the project through the support he gives. “Some reach for the clouds, some just push others up there,” he wisely declares.
This film also promotes the importance of loved ones in our lives to support us and push us forward. Glashier has a rocky relationship with his father, especially as the older man develops some hindering cognitive issues. But the two have their breakthrough moments of love and respect. Amelia, for her part, talks warmly of her marriage and the man she loved so. “His most endearing quality was his deep and true love for the beauty of the world,” she recalls. And we see the man’s love played out (in a flashback) through a totally self-sacrificial act. Amelia is willing to later put her own life on the line for another as well.
The relationship between Amelia and Glashier goes from one of slight disdain to one of great respect in the course of their short balloon journey together. That’s reflected well in a short string of dialogue between the two when Glashier is injured and having a difficult time getting up. “Can you stand? “Amelia asks. “I’d rather not,” he replies, groaning. “And if I’d help you?” “Then I would stand,” Glashier says with a smile and struggles to his feet with her help.
While miles in the air, Glashier and Amelia hear the sounds of church bells mysteriously carried up into the clouds from the streets far below. In a flashback scene, Amelia suggests that her sister can sometimes sound “like a priest imploring me to share my sins.” Amelia visits the cemetery where her husband is buried, and we see many graves marked prominently with crosses.
Upon awakening in one scene, Amelia is shown in some gauzy (though not revealing) undergarments.
The balloon journey into the upper stratosphere is filled with quite a bit of peril and physically thumping moments that are sometimes painful to watch.
The aeronauts fly into a thunderstorm, for instance, on their way up and the violent winds and lightning toss the balloon and its passengers around. Glashier hits his head and bleeds quite a bit from a scalp wound. When the balloon gets higher, the air thins, leaving Glashier cognitively impaired and causing his nose to bleed.
And things get more dramatic from there as the cold impacts both of them—and their rapidly ascending balloon—in unexpectedly perilous ways.
[Spoiler Warning] At one point, Amelia has to make a treacherous climb to repair the balloon, and her fingers become so frostbitten and bloodied that she can’t grip the ropes. She passes out from lack of oxygen and slides off the side of the balloon (before being caught by a rope tied around her waist). We then watch as their balloon gradually collapses, sending its passengers hurtling toward the ground and forcing them to brainstorm increasingly dangerous ways to survive the plunge.
We see someone fall from a great height in a flashback scene. Someone is dragged, thumping across an open field. Both Amelia and Glashier are cut, bruised and bleeding in the course of their trip. A dog is dropped from a balloon causing a crowd below to gasp … before a small parachute unfolds.
A single use of “d–n.”
It’s implied that Amelia spent a stretch of time alone and drinking quite a lot after the death of her husband. We see a few empty bottles on tables in her apartmnet. James stashes away a flask of brandy to celebrate with at the end of their successful trip, instead he pours the alcohol on Ameia’s frostbitten and torn hands.
We see Amelia and a number of other people drinking wine and alcohol at formal parties and events.
Glaisher’s academic compatriots treat him quite shabbily throughout much of the film, mocking his earnest belief that weather patterns can be analyzed and then predicted.
At the beginning of this film we’re told that The Aeronauts story is based on a real one. And indeed, James Glaisher did take a famous, real world balloon flight in 1862 that broke many records at the time and advanced the science of meteorology.
That real-world balloon did not, however, have a real-world Amelia Wren in its basket. The white-bearded scientists of the day wouldn’t have let that, uh, fly. And frankly, from a purely story perspective, that’s too bad. For in spite of what any historical purists might say, Felicity Jones’ Amelia Wren is the one who pumps most of the enjoyable air into this adventure tale. She’s part show-woman, part acrobat and part ballooning hero.
This movie is a high-flying adventure that’s easy to get along with, too. Apart from some lightning-flashing, balloon-crashing and self-sacrificial peril, the content load here is as light as a feather. There’s little here that should ground your family matinee trip or keep you from this panoramically lovely ballooning adventure.
(Unless, perhaps, you’re afraid of heights—which The Aeronauts’ two heroes certainly are not.)
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.