To call “The Aeronauts” uplifting would be an understatement for a movie that shoots us into the sky in a gas-filled balloon with little preamble and a breathtaking array of special effects. Gorgeous and goofy, fanciful and unrepentantly old-fashioned, this Victorian adventure (it’s set in 1862) delights much more when its head is in the clouds than when its feet are on the ground.
The wellspring of the movie’s joie de vivre is Amelia Wren (a wonderful Felicity Jones), a fearless balloonist with a tragic past and a gift for exhibitionism. The movie opens with a rush as she arrives at a launch site astride the roof of a carriage, her peacock-hued frock and feathered headdress fluttering gaily. The crowd is ecstatic as she cartwheels around the waiting balloon under the disapproving gaze of her flight partner, the meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne). Glaisher is taking the trip to test his theories of weather prediction — this being London, those mostly amount to determining the likelihood of a drizzle versus a downpour — and Amelia’s carnival antics annoy him. He’s even more miffed when, after liftoff, she flings her little dog, Posey, out of the basket, accompanied by a spray of fireworks.