In the movies and elsewhere we’re now seeing more stories about women’s experience. There’s a downside: Now that there’s an understanding that women’s stories sell (at least to a point), there’s likewise the temptation to make overstated feel-good parables in which ladies do remarkable things while males simply loll about cluelessly and arrogantly. That’s not to say that women do not frequently do remarkable things while men simply loll about cluelessly and arrogantly.
The Aeronauts is a wonderfully shot movie about two people– a male scientist and a female pilot– who make a groundbreaking balloon journey in 1860 s England. The lady, Jones’ Amelia Wren, a knowledgeable balloon pilot still grieving over the death of her hubby, is better and more practical and also has a much better understanding of the dynamics behind the beautiful drifting thing that’s holding them aloft. Even though The Aeronauts is based on genuine people, none of this actually taken place, or at least not like this.
Glaisher was a genuine individual: In 1862 he broke the world record for altitude in a balloon co-piloted by Henry Coxwell. Glaisher did pass out, and Coxwell had to climb up out of the balloon’s basket to launch a valve that would enable the balloon to descend safely. Amelia Wren is a composite character, drawn from real-life figures Sophie Blanchard, the very first expert woman balloonist, and Margaret Graham, the first British female to make a solo balloon flight, in1826
You could argue that The Aeronauts need to have portrayed the genuine stories of either Blanchard or Graham, or should have been entirely about the record-breaking journey of Glaisher and Coxwell. The motion picture’s adherence to history is beside the point: It works so hard to render Amelia Wren as a heroic character and James Glaisher as a brainy bumbler that it comes to feel like a kids’s storybook– which is perfectly great, if your objective is to write your message in clear semaphore for young people.
But if you’re a grown woman seeing The Aeronauts, you might feel– as feisty as Jones’ performance is– that you’re being talked down to. It’s as if women do not have adequate adventure stories of our own. The thinking appears to be that guys’s experiences are the really amazing ones– why not just take some of their stories and plop a lady into the action, letting her do the bold stuff for a change?