Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ Aeronauts romance criticised by historians

The on-screen chemistry between Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones helped him win an Oscar for The Theory of Everything.

Now, film bosses are hoping for similar sparks in their hotly anticipated reunion, which tells another true-life story.

They star in The Aeronauts, the ­gripping tale of Victorian daredevil ­balloonists and their record-breaking flight to the edge of the atmosphere.

In the movie, Eddie and Felicity fall in love as they face disaster in the heavens.

But filmmakers are facing a barrage of criticism from historians because the romantic plot is hot air. There was no groping in the gondola between the real adventurers, because they were men.

The true hero has been airbrushed from history for the sake of romance.

The film is based on meteorologist James Glaisher, who on September 5, 1862, made a record-breaking balloon flight with balloonist Henry Coxwell.

Eddie, 37, plays Glaisher but Coxwell has been replaced by “lady adventurer” Amelia Wren, played by Felicity, 36.

Head of Collections at the Royal Society Keith Moore explains: “I think they just got rid of Coxwell because they wanted a romantic lead.

“They simply decided it would be a good idea to shoehorn in a romantic interest, which is a shame because in itself it’s a fabulous story.

“There are so many great stories of Victorian women ­scientists they could have written films about. It's annoying.”

Keith says filmmakers have taken liberties with Eddie’s character too.

“Glaisher wasn’t a youngster. He was born in 1809 and the flight was in 1862, so he’d had a very long and active life.”

Keith is eager to pay homage to Coxwell’s achievements. “He had a really ­adventurous life that would be a great story,” he says. “He flew in locations in and around Europe and America.

“In 1847 a balloon got torn and he managed to convert what was left into ­something resembling a ­parachute, so they could come down to earth safely.

“He was someone who thought on his feet. That made him a good guy in an emergency.”

Disaster struck during the flight featured in the new film when Glaisher passed out and Coxwell had to save their lives by releasing a broken valve.

The balloon rose to 36,000ft to 37,000ft – the mystery remains as the instruments failed in the freezing conditions. Keith says: “We don’t know why the balloon valve stuck – whether it froze or got tangled in a rope.”

But the academic says that we should embrace the mysteries rather than try to solve them.

“It keeps historians interested as they love arguing about points like this.”

The true story of the record-breaking flight begins in 1862 when Glaisher and Coxwell set off on their adventure from Wolverhampton, which in the movie has been replaced by London.

Keith explains: “Glaisher was very interested in making ascents in order to make ­meteorological observations.

“He was attached to the Greenwich Observatory and they were doing routine tests to understand the weather and see how conditions changed as you rose.”

But things didn’t go to plan. Keith continues: “They were pretty much as high as you’d want to get when things started going wrong.

“It was an uncontrolled ascent and they were at the point where they’d be thinking about levelling off, making an observation and coming down again.

“But they just kept going. It was not a happy situation.”

“The temperature fell to -20 and Glaisher ­developed balloon ­sickness, becoming temporarily blind and passing out.

Keith explains: “The technology wasn’t there to provide anything to prevent or prepare them for the sickness. The idea was that if you got into trouble then you could open the valve of the balloon and descend as quickly as you wanted.” But the valve got stuck.

Recalling when he passed out, Glaisher recounted: “In an instance darkness overcame me. I believed I’d experience nothing more as death would come unless we speedily descended.”

While his co-pilot lay semi-conscious Coxwell clambered into the shrouds of the balloon where the valve was located to try to release it manually.

Keith says: “His hands were frozen. He managed to do it with his teeth. He managed to pull the rope and clear the valve, so they were able to let out the gas and descend. They landed safely, but they could easily have died.”

Without Coxwell’s heroics, the balloon would have continued into the atmosphere. Amazingly, the near-death experience did not put the men off ballooning.

Keith says: “Glaisher continued to fly. I might well have had second thoughts! He did another ascent with Coxwell. You can’t keep a good scientist down.”

It was reported that the following year Glaisher nearly crashed into the sea.

Keith adds: “They didn’t really have lots of control – they were just blown where the wind took them.”

While The Aeronauts has airbrushed a real-life hero from history, Keith believes it is still worth a watch.

He says: “It’s about pulling out these hidden stories and bringing them to wider audiences. More power to filmmakers if they can get them out there.”

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