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Anger as Wolverhampton left out of Aeronauts film

By Richard Guttridge | Wolverhampton | Entertainment | Published:

"This film is running a wagon and horses through history."

That is one historian's damning verdict of a new movie telling the story of an epic balloon flight which began in Wolverhampton.

Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are the stars of The Aeronauts, which arrived in cinemas this week.

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne star in the new film.

The problem is, the part the city played in the feat has been erased.

It is one of several changes from what really happened in 1862 when James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell took to the skies in the Mammoth for the record-breaking flight which have irked historians.

For a start, the silver-screen-version places a woman in the basket, played by Star Wars actor Jones, removing pilot Coxwell from the story completely. And rather than the Black Country, the balloon instead "glides above the streets" of Victorian London.

It is not the first time a film has only been loosely based on real events but the not-so-subtle changes in The Aeronauts have irritated some historians and scientists, and led to claims both the achievements of Coxwell and Wolverhampton as the location for the epic ascent have been airbrushed from history. Certain members of the Glaisher family are said to have been left "horrified" by the changes.

Early meteorologist James Glaisher.

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The film is based on the remarkable story of the gas balloon trip that sent the two explorers five miles into the air before a death-defying plunge to earth.

Coxwell and Glaisher climbed to around 30,000 feet without the aid of oxygen after setting off from Stafford Road gas works. Wolverhampton was seen as ideal for the launch due to the availability of coal gas and its central location, meaning there was no chance of the balloon drifting out to sea.

Their mission was to improve knowledge of weather - but their journey to the skies almost ended in disaster. Victorians' understanding of the atmosphere was still developing and flying so high without anything to aid their breathing put them in grave danger.

Coxwell was forced to rescue the pair when Glaisher lost consciousness, climbing onto the balloon's rigging and frantically releasing gas to send the vessel plummeting towards the ground. They eventually landed safely in Brown Clee Hill in the south Shropshire hills.

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Glaisher Drive in Wolverhampton

Jefny Ashcroft, an historian from Wolverhampton, is particularly aggrieved at how they city's part in the feat has been removed. Roads near the Science Park are named after both men in honour of their exploits.

Dr Ashcroft said: "This film is running a wagon and horses through history because there is so much which isn't true about something which is historical fact. They have distorted lots of things.

"Wolverhampton was the place where the record-breaking balloon flight took place from. It mentions flying over London. I think it is very unfair on the city.

An illustaration showing Henry Coxwell and (right) James Glaisher during their balloon flight.

"It's important that Wolverhampton people know it's from here - a lot don't know. Lots will see the film and think "that's interesting" and they won't realise. It's rewriting history."

She added: "I have no objection to women being shown in films but there are lots of real women who have been scientists. I would like to see women being involved in science when it's true.

"It is doing away with someone who actually existed."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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