A 19th-century aspiring meteorologist with a dream of predicting the weather hires a young female aeronaut to pilot a hot-air balloon for his experiments in the first trailer for , a forthcoming original film from Amazon Studios. Per the official synopsis:
In 1862, daredevil balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) teams up with pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) to advance human knowledge of the weather and fly higher than anyone in history.
While breaking records and advancing scientific discovery, their voyage to the very edge of existence helps the unlikely pair find their place in the world they have left far below them. But they face physical and emotional challenges in the thin air, as the ascent becomes a fight for survival.
James Glaisher is a historical figure well known to aviation history buffs, since he and his pilot, Henry Coxwell, made several balloon flights to measure the temperature and humidity of the upper atmosphere between 1862 and 1866. Armed with scientific instruments and bottles of brandy, Glaisher and Coxwell set a world-altitude record on their very first successful flight, reaching an estimated 38,999 feet (11,887 meters) on September 5, 1862. They were the first men to reach the atmospheric stratosphere, without the benefit of oxygen tanks, pressure suits, or a pressurized cabin.
The men released pigeons at various altitudes during their ascent to see how well they flew, recalling that those released above the three-mile mark “dropped like a stone.” The men would have continued rising and likely died because the valving rope Coxwell needed to manipulate to begin their descent got tangled up with the balloon net. Coxwell had to climb out of the basket into the rigging to release the valve with his teeth—his hands were badly frost-bitten—in order to begin their descent. By then, Glaisher had passed out. Eventually, the men landed safely (if a bit roughly) about 20 miles from their original launch point.
While Glaisher is a primary character in , writer/director Tom Harper opted to omit Coxwell, replacing him with a fictional female character, Amelia Wren. That decision spawned a bit of controversy last year, when the Royal Society’s head of library, Keith Moore, told The Daily Telegraph, “It’s a great shame that Henry isn’t portrayed because he performed very well and saved the life of a leading scientist,” adding that he wished the film had chosen to include one of the “many deserving female scientists of the period.”
But Harper did do so, after a fashion. Amelia Wren was inspired by several historical women, most notably Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to find work as a professional balloonist when her husband, Jean-Pierre, died. British aeronaut Margaret Graham and American aviator Amelia Earhart were also influential as Harper was developing the character.
Harper also wanted to bring some authenticity to the sky borne scenes, so Redmayne and Jones shot scenes from around 2,000 feet in the air with the help of a helicopter. He filmed some scenes with IMAX cameras, since the original plan was to premiere the film in IMAX theaters. But IMAX wanted a 90-day exclusive commitment, rather than a brief exclusive before the film’s wider release, so those plans were scrapped.
Judging from this first trailer, will draw quite a lot from Glaisher and Coxwell’s historic flight into the stratosphere—including Coxwell’s heroic manual release of the valve—while fictionalizing other elements to get the most narrative bang for the buck. We see Glaisher addressing dubious scientific colleagues, insisting that his scheme to make measurements in the atmosphere will one day help them predict the weather, thereby saving lives.
“We are scientists, not fortune tellers,” one skeptic scoffs. Naturally, Glaisher sets out to prove them wrong. Meanwhile, Amelia Wren is fighting social norms of her era (“Women don’t belong in balloons”). Glaisher convinces her to be his pilot: “You’re the only person who could fly us higher than anyone has ever been.” And so she does, with all the life-threatening dangers such a feat entails.
will be screened at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30 and at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. It hits theaters December 6, 2019, and will be available for streaming on Amazon Video on December 20, 2019.