Times caption: James Glaisher, left, and Henry Coxwell in the basket of a hot air balloon in about 1862
Times caption: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in The Aeronauts
Isn’t it inspiring, how courageous women are in works of fiction?
Women are strong.
Women are amazing.
Women need quotas for fictional accounts of courageous achievements.
A piece in today’s Times:
When film-makers decided to plunder the history books for a story of airborne excitement they found what they were looking for in the tale of James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell, with one niggle.
The balloonists and their near-death experience in the skies over Wolverhampton in 1862 would be much better, they reasoned, if one of them were a woman. [J4MB: Why “much better”?]
So while the meteorologist Glaisher will be memorialised in The Aeronauts in a performance by Eddie Redmayne, the daring balloonist Coxwell has been replaced with an imaginary female aeronaut named Amelia Wren. Tom Harper, the film’s writer and director, who oversaw the recent BBC adaptation of War & Peace, has forgone accuracy for the opportunity to place Redmayne opposite Felicity Jones, who starred with him in The Theory of Everything.
The omission of Coxwell has irritated the Royal Society, which argued that there were plenty of female scientists of the period who deserved to have their stories told on film.
Keith Moore, head of library at the scientific institution, said that Coxwell’s story should be better known. “It’s a great shame that Henry isn’t portrayed because he performed very well and saved the life of a leading scientist,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Glaisher was just looking at his instruments — he was very much the cargo.”
The two men had risen to about four miles above the ground when Glaisher began to feel desperately ill. When he tried to raise one of his arms from where it rested on a table he found that it would not move. He tried to call out to Coxwell, but no words emerged and his head lolled to one side.
“In an instance darkness overcame me,” he wrote afterwards. “I believed I would experience nothing more as death would come unless we speedily descended.”
Unfortunately, the release valve that would allow the balloon to descend had become entangled in ropes and could only be freed if one of the men climbed out of the basket. The air was thin and the temperature fell to minus 29C as Coxwell, a balloonist of great experience, pulled himself up into the shrouds of the balloon. Clinging on with both hands, he used his teeth to operate the valve. [J4MB: This is, of course, the character who will be portrayed as a woman.]
Historians believe that the balloon reached a height of 7 miles (37,000ft or 11,000m) before it was brought under control.
The men fared better than the pigeons they had brought with them for experimental purposes. The one that they dropped over the side at an altitude of three miles “dropped like a piece of paper”. A second, dropped at four miles, flew vigorously in circles while losing height. A third, ejected between four and five miles, “fell downwards as a stone”. [J4MB: Doubtless the male character will be portrayed as the pigeon-lobber.]
Todd Lieberman, the film’s producer, has previously spoken about his wish to make the story authentic, saying: “A top priority for us on The Aeronauts is authenticity. [J4MB: Other than the barefaced lie that one of the two people involved was a woman, anyway.] With that in mind, we intend to do as much balloon filming in the sky as the weather will allow.”
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