If your favorite part in “The Wizard of Oz” was that beautiful, velvety hot-air balloon, you just might love Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts,” in which two Victorian-era explorers make history by climbing to previously unforeseen heights in a red-and-white-striped gas balloon. Amelia (Felicity Jones), an entertainer and daredevil balloon pilot, teams up with meteorologist James (Eddie Redmayne) for the flight, which takes place over several hours on a fall afternoon in 1862. (The film freely mixes fact and fiction: Redmayne’s character is inspired by real-life scientist James Glaisher, who made a record-setting ascent of 37,000 feet in a balloon on the same date the movie depicts; Jones’ character is an invention.)
Gorgeously shot by cinematographer George Steel (who’s mostly worked in British television, including “Peaky Blinders” and “War & Peace”), “The Aeronauts” is a joy to look at: That colorful balloon, gliding serenely through gossamer clouds, is the prettiest of Victorian pictures — and the view from above, as Amelia and James gaze at a now-miniature London, is breathtaking.
Pity the rest of “The Aeronauts” isn’t quite as compelling. Jones and Redmayne (previously paired, to good effect, for “The Theory of Everything”) are charming as ever, but the screenplay sticks them in a basket together for long periods of time, awkwardly and often abruptly broken up by flashbacks in which we learn a bit about their pasts, including the harrowing fate of Amelia’s aeronaut husband. And Jones gamely demonstrates Amelia performing a feat that’s both implausible and truly insane — what is she, a Victorian Spider-Man? — in the service of ramping up dramatic tension. (Things get a little dull in that basket.) Never mind; it’s a pretty picture and a sweet adventure, and sometimes that’s enough.
★★½ “The Aeronauts,” with Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Phoebe Fox, Tom Courtenay, Anne Reid. Directed by Tom Harper, from a screenplay by Jack Thorne. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some peril and thematic elements. Opens Dec. 6 at Redmond Town Center, Varsity.