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The Aeronauts (2019)

CRUMBLIES…4 crumblies

Here’s one for the grandkids. We had another outing led by the much appreciated new Nurse Sssssashay. A modern woman, she’ll look you full in the face and challenge the gender roles of the 1970s whilst winking and knowing she won the battle the second she smiled. Brilliant! Just like it was at the time.

Anyhow, where was I? Nurse Sssssashay shoved us in the mini-bus and we headed out to watch her filmic hero – Eddie Redmayne – getting roundly whomped by the cheerier, looser and somewhat sadder Felicity Jones high, high up in the air.

Oh yes. It’s the nearly-true story of the birth of bubble-based chocolate bars: The Aeronauts.

Okay, tha’s a lie. I’m not processing sugar too well at the moment. It’s about balloonists and the birth of meteorology. Jones – getting the fun stuff in this couple’s second film outing – is the widow of a balloonist, amalgam of various women in the 1800s who led the way on this sort of terror-based hobby, and showy one who drags in the crowd in the first ten minutes. She swings around the ropes of a rising balloon, all powdery rouge and gaudy clothes, hurls a dog out of the thing for startling, floaty effect, and gets all serious in flashbacks of her lost love. She’s Redmayne’s hired help and brings the joy.

Redmayne, meanwhile, to the quiet yearnings of Nurse Sssssashay, is the earnest scientist. A member of various academic societies that involve being pompous and put down by one’s fuddy-duddy fellows, his James Glaisher is real and frustrated. There’s no great air of sexual frustration, thank the baubles of the Lord, rather gender shock and the powerlessness of being in the hands of indifferent academics and then Jones’s enthusiastically crazed Amelia. If there’s a bond, they both seem to have a lot of teeth.

So, Redmayne wants to prove that the weather is different up there – and needs to go as high as possible. Amelia needs to shuffle off the weight of her grief, be useful, and get back her love of the air. Not that much of this is said out loud. The film boils down to one not-so-gentle flight crammed with every balloon-based peril you could think of (except fighter jets, it being a time of buttoned-up Victorian). But – ahhh – the way-too-high flight is fun. The air pressure shifts and they note it; there are butterflies and some other metaphors and they note it; there’s snow, ice, frozen apertures and proper, jump-scary peril. And frozen fingers. Anything but the frozen fingers…shudder. And they still note it.

The shape of the story is preordained, but you won’t mind. The old farts on the ground are snotty and condemning in flashback. Pleasingly, this condemnation of the encrusted isn’t offensive to those of use sat on special cushions. We’re with Redmayne’s ambitions and Jones’s supportive heroics all the way. Her family history is back-flashed as well, but you want – and are always in reach – of that creaking, swinging basket in the clouds.

And here’s the nicest part. Jones gets to do all the hard work and take the biggest risks. There’s a climbing scene, with bits of falling, done with purple fingers that had Nurse Sssssashay nervously eyeing Cardiac Clive. Much like Redmayne, he’s a delicate thing and was having a nap at the time. I was snapping the armrests with claws of steel. Assuming they haven’t all been sewn up, these scenes will make key parts of you clench.

And that’s the film. A surprise of unsexed fun, quality entertainment, two hours of balloon-based tension and – weirdly – adventure. Flashbacks tell the story; the balloon ride delivers the emotions. And it’s all on a quest to give us those unintelligible bars Jack Scott used to go on about in the the weather forecast.

One for the grandkids – and you. A safe, shared thing for a Sunday afternoon. Until the landing…

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