It's “based on true events,” but there's a considerable
editorial license. Historically,
the two people taking the record-setting balloon altitude flight were two
men. But here, writer and
director Tom Harper has chosen to make one of them a woman.
1862 England. It was
the French who had first introduced the hot air balloon, but James
Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), an Englishman, thought that it would provide
valuable meteorological information. According
to the film, his contemporaries in society circles scoffed at the notion
of being able to scientifically predict the weather (insert here your own
opinion about our progress since then).
Glaisher couldn't find any reputable ballonist to pilot him
skywards, so he turns to the wife of someone who had perished, while she
served as his assistant. Yes,
she's still having nightmares about that.
But he's undeterred. And
she, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), apparently feels that a successful
attempt would help compensate for her sense of loss.
Besides, she loves the feel of flight.
The liftoff is given a circus or carnival kind of air, where Amelia
plays to the audience unabashedly, while Glaisher, like a good scientist,
is just trying to adjust his instruments.
But finally, after liftoff, we experience some of the sheer silence
of floating through the clouds. Glaisher
has assured everyone that the weather will be fully cooperative.
He was wrong. They run
into a powerful thunderstorm whose updraft propels them skyward, much
higher than any balloonist before them.
They break the record at 23,000 feet, and soon afterwards are ready
to descend, because the ice particles are forming on their faces, but it
seems the release valve is frozen stuck.
Now they're ascending so fast that Glaisher gets “the bends,”
and it's up to Amelia to climb into the rigging to try to save them both
from freezing to death.
It's a harrowing manuever, and looks scary even though you're
telling yourself that it's all CGI. (Actually,
not all of it. Turns out the
two actors actually did go up in a balloon and part of the filming was
done by helicopter.) And at an
estimated 37,000 feet, you're lucky to just survive the altitude.
Much less the crash landing afterwards.
Happily ever after, for him, is being able to go back to that
venerable scientific society and be proven right.
Happily ever after, for her, is getting back on that (winged) horse
and riding it again. We even
get to see both of them at the end taking another spin together, this time
more relaxed and in control. And yes, historically, Glaisher did continue
to go ballooning with his pilot counterpart (the poor chap whose name,
Henry Coxwell, gets left out of all this).
Yes, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones still make a great pairing,
as they did in the Oscar-nominated film “The Theory of Everything”
(where she was nominated for Best Actress, and he won the Oscar for Best
Actor). They don't even
require actual physical intimacy to convince us of their emotional
electricity. So the movie is
engaging just to observe their interaction.
Even if we are playing fast and loose with the historicity.