As I noted last time, there are some historical inaccuracies in the film “The Aeronauts,” inaccuracies that I’ve called significant. What are they?
Two big ones.
First, the scientific community did not dismiss Glaisher’s idea. The British Association for the Advancement of Science (which is different from the Royal Society) endorsed his flight.
Second, and much more obvious, Glaisher’s pilot was named not Amelia Rennes, but Henry Coxwell.
If that sounds like a man’s name to you, you’re right.
Thus the two primary conflicts in the movie—the opposition of the scientific community and the cultural prejudice against Glaisher’s pilot simply because she was woman—are fiction. The writers themselves noted that they wanted to “reposition the narrative to be more progressive”—“I wanted it to not be two middle-aged men in a basket. I wanted it to be reflective for a contemporary audience.”
The same article notes that the Royal Society has expressed regret that Coxwell’s significant story has been brushed out of the film.
Should we be upset?
Should we start making some memes? Maybe boycott the movie? Publish the writers’ home addresses, and pictures of their children? Warn them about where liars go?
Well, let’s think about this for a minute. (PSA: Thinking about things for a minute is wise, unless someone’s life is in immediate danger.)
On the one hand, there’s no question that the event didn’t happen as the movie portrays it. The writers had an agenda, and as soon as the word progressive shows up, some people are going to get upset.
But on the other hand—
- The writers have freely and publicly spoken about what they did and why they did it.
- Both the movie and the trailer prominently state that the plot is “inspired by true events”—and established tradition tells us that such wording indicates at least some fictionalization. That language is precisely what led me to learn the real story.
- Accurate historical accounts are readily available—it took me less than 5 minutes to find them. Nothing is being hidden from the viewing public.
- None of the fictionalization is fantastic—that is, complete fantasy. The Royal Society was in fact considered “elitist and conservative” by the founders of the British Association, including the well-regarded and significant Charles Babbage; there were in fact female balloon pilots, who were discriminated against, one of whom had a husband, also a balloonist, who died in flight; even if there had been no female pilots, the Victorian view of feminism is a matter of historical record; and while I wondered about the scientific accuracy of their going as high as they did without oxygen, [SPOILER ALERT] the fact is that Glaisher and Coxwell did set the altitude record without benefit of oxygen. How they managed that, I have no idea.
- The movie is a work of art. The photography is stunning—any pilot will agree that the tops of clouds are always far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than the bottoms—and the plot is engaging, with moments of suspense that are as intense as any other movie scene with which I’m familiar. Well-done art should be recognized and commended, as one more evidence of the image of God in humans—even humans with whom God himself might have significant disagreements (Gen 9.6)—and I hasten to add that I have no knowledge of the spiritual condition of the writers. It’s worth noting that there are regenerate “progressives.”
- While the introduction of a female character in the piloting role does introduce some implied sexual tension to the story, it is not at all explicit, and there’s no obvious romantic relationship between the two in the basket. I’d consider the movie perfectly safe for kids, if they can handle the depictions of danger.
Some things we ought to fight about. But much more often, we disagree about things and get unnecessarily upset.
Watch the movie, or don’t. Know the facts. Live your life.
Pick your battles.