• by Wes Singleton

The Aeronauts - B

Rated PG-13, 101 minutes

The winning fact-based drama "The Aeronauts" comes as a pleasant surprise. On paper, a film about a couple of scientists schelpping along in a hot air balloon for important findings would be all that interesting. While nothing exactly new, "The Aeronauts" proves that theory wrong, making scientific discovery engaging and inspiring.

In 1862 headstrong scientist James Glaisher (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne) and wealthy young widow Amelia Wren (his "Theory of Everything" co-star and Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones) mount a balloon expedition to fly higher than anyone in history. As their perilous ascent reduces their chances of survival, the unlikely duo soon discover things about themselves -- and each other -- that help both of them find their place in the world.

Reuniting "The Theory of Everything" co-stars in the exciting, well-acted "The Aeronauts," produced by Amazon Films and directed and written by British filmmaker Tom Harper, is an auspicious move, and their chemistry here is one of the chief reasons to see the film, not to mention a particularly strong turn from Jones. Inspiring real-life stories like this seem a dime a dozen, but Harper's solid direction and its appealing co-stars help the film along.

Harper's script relies heavily on flashback and occasionally seem like filler, especially in the second act when the balloon ride slows a bit. In addition, historians may take pause given that Harper takes considerable liberties with the real story; the balloon flight is an amalgam for various flights and Jones' character is a fictional composite, with Glashier's life-saving co-pilot actually a fellow scientist named Henry Coxwell.

Even with some of those flaws, "The Aeronauts" (the term means hot air balloon traveler, but aeronaut sounds cooler to say), there's still much to like about it, particularly that last exciting act that'll leave you breathless as they literally traipse the balloon as a desperate attempt to stay afloat and stay alive, too. One additional trivia for cinemaphiles: that's Oscar-nominee and veteran British actor Tom Courtenay ("Doctor Zhivago" and "The Dresser') as Glashier's father, and he and Redmayne share one of the more touching scenes in the film.

"The Aeronauts" doesn't add much to the genre, except that it comes as a pleasant surprise as an occasionally enthralling, moving portrait of how a hot air balloon made some scientific advancements in meteorology, and the people who helped navigate the balloon. Definitely worth a look, and I hope it doesn't get lost amidst the awards fray this season. In limited release, you'll also find it on Amazon Prime in coming weeks.