Never before have I been able to write about a film telling a true story that happened in my current hometown of Wolverhampton. Unfortunately, while I am pleased that such a film has attracted brilliant Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, I am actually in two minds about this one.
In 1862, two brave Victorian balloonists set off from Wolverhampton to gather data on atmospherics and water vapour in an attempt to uncover the processes behind rainfall. Scientist James Glaisher and balloon pilot Henry Coxwell ended up in both the history books and the record books, reaching an altitude of around five miles in a venture that nearly cost both of them their lives.
It’s a genuine story of bravery and the spirit of exploration and experiment. The drive for knowledge at all costs that the best adventure stories are composed of. I first heard about it around twenty years ago and was immediately captivated by the astonishing story, which you can read about here in the Shropshire Star.
Soon Amazon will be releasing The Aeronauts, a film based on the dangerous exploits of the pair. Except, although much has been made of it being based on a true story, brave pilot Henry Coxwell has been completely written out and replaced by the fictional Amelia Wren, played by Felicity Jones.
Not that this has been publicised. In fact, many reports give the impression that the ‘true story’ at the heart of the film is that of wealthy young widow Amelia Wren and the intrepid scientist Glaisher. Like this one in Radio Times.
I get really angry when the below the line comments on film reviews complain about women or people of colour being included in major roles when sex nor race have no bearing on the story. It’s a horrible example of how the freedom the internet provides has been co-opted by racism and sexism.
So for me to complain now that a female character has been invented for the co-lead in this film leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable. But nothing like as uncomfortable as I feel about the historical facts of what has been touted as a true story having been so altered.
Coxwell was a very brave man who saved Glaister’s life. This film is the only way most people will have heard of this amazing Victorian endeavour. To simply write Coxwell out of history in this way is just plain wrong. And the more I think about it, the more wrong it feels. You wouldn’t make a film about Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest and write out Sherpa Tensing Norgay in favour of a fictional female character.
Amazon has so far not made any comment on it, preferring to concentrate instead on the fact that the stars have themselves been brave enough to do the balloon shoots 2,000 ft up in a balloon, rather than relying solely on stunt performers or CG.
Amazon has not yet announced the release date for The Aeronauts.
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