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The Aeronauts: Facts about fiction in Eddie Redmayne’s new film

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Eddie Redmayne as Mr Glaisher with Felicity Jones as Amelia WrenImage copyright
The Aeronauts

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Eddie Redmayne plays James Glaisher in The Aeronauts but his real-life expedition partner makes way for a fictional character

A new film tells the story of a record-breaking balloon flight. It’s based on a real-life ascent, but how accurate is it – and does it matter?

Eddie Redmayne is riding high – whether it’s as a celebrated leading man, or as his character in new film, The Aeronauts.

It’s based on the story of a gas balloon adventure in which scientist James Glaisher and pilot Henry Coxwell took to the skies to further knowledge of meteorology – and in doing so, literally reached new heights, setting a record as they soared.

“Based on” is always a phrase to suggest there may be poetic licence, although Glaisher – played by Redmayne – remains in the movie about the 1862 feat. But it was apparent as soon as casting news broke that pilot Coxwell had effectively blown away.

A fictional character played by Felicity Jones takes his place as Glaisher’s basket partner, and in that sense, history, at least on the silver screen, is rewritten. If, that is, an acutely historical account was ever the film’s purpose.

Either way, it has been clear for a while that the shift to a glamorous, female and widowed daredevil pilot has ruffled some feathers. In the run-up to the film’s release, one of Mr Glaisher’s relatives told the BBC some of the family had been left “horrified” by the changes.

Now, as audiences see the movie, another critic has stepped forward, accusing filmmakers of “airbrushing” history by not making clear the balloon launched from Wolverhampton, a fact that gives the area a slice of the aeronautic past. After all, before NASA launch pads, there was the Midlands city.

But Wolverhampton, do we really have a problem?

According to local historian and writer Jefny Ashcroft, we do.

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James Glaisher was originally from London and worked for the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Henry Coxwell was a balloon pilot who looked nothing like Felicity Jones

The name of the vessel – The Mammoth – remains intact. As does its then-record breaking achievement of reaching 37,000ft. But have things otherwise got a bit too Mary Poppins? Filmmakers say the balloon “glides above the streets” of Victorian London. Chim-chim-ch-what?

“I don’t think history should be airbrushed and Wolverhampton should get the credit for being the site of this important event,” Ms Ashcroft said.

“The reason the journey began in Wolverhampton was that they were also concerned that if they had begun in London and gone off course, they could have landed in the river and drowned.

“So picking a location like Wolverhampton was vital for their safety.”

Talking of safety, Glaisher and Coxwell’s ride came to a relatively tidy end in a farmer’s field at Cold Weston, seven-and-a-half miles from Ludlow, according to a relative of Mr Glaisher.

The pair then walked to the railway station only to find there were no trains. So they went to a hotel nearby where the only available dinner, they were disappointed to find, was chops.

Mr Glaisher telegraphed their location that night and the report of the flight was written over breakfast the next day and sent to the newspapers. It was reported in The Times of 11 September 1862 as a leading article.

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Wolverhampton City Archives

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The Mammoth takes off from Stafford Road gasworks

But the adventure was not without risk. And perhaps while not as romantic as the movie synopsis of “an unlikely pair finding their place in the world” at “the very edge of existence”, things were nevertheless dicey.

That was because they traversed the thin air without the aid of bottled oxygen. The altitude record would, of course, go on to be beaten. But reaching literally dizzying heights without such support is a feat which, the filmmakers say, stands to this day.

According to Ms Ashcroft, though, the record-breaking was simply a happy accident of the quest for meteorological knowledge. And perhaps, the least of the men’s concerns.

“Mr Coxwell’s hands were black with frostbite,” she said, “so he used his teeth to release the gas valve to lower the balloon after Mr Glaisher had passed out.”

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University of Wolverhampton Science Park

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A street name in Wolverhampton recalls the record-breaking journey

And what of the science bit?

“I’ll be interested to see how much science is actually in the film,” said Ali Glaisher, the great-great-great niece of James Glaisher, who explained he had wanted to push the understanding of temperature and humidity.

That said, she does not have too much problem with narrative flights of fancy.

“To replace Mr Coxwell, who was a balloon expert, with an attractive widow character, I can understand why they’ve done it.”

But she had a caveat – her great-great-great uncle was a married man. “I don’t think he’d be going off with any widow,” she said.

All in all, though, she admits to being “sanguine” about the changes. Others are less so. “Some of the family,” she said, “are absolutely horrified.”

So, what do the filmmakers have to say about massaging details?

“[Glashier and Coxwell’s] accomplishments are monumental and while we never intended to create a documentary, we are thankful to them as well as all the other ground-breakers of that time for their bravery and unshakable need for answers,” said director Tom Harper.

“We pulled from so many different flights to create the narrative of the film and hope that those collections of achievements serve as a basis for inspiration to all genders and all ages.”





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Billie Eilish lands number one with James Bond theme

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Billie EilishImage copyright
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No Time To Die by Billie Eilish has become only the second-ever James Bond theme song to reach the top of the UK singles chart.

Sam Smith had the only other 007 chart success, when Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre went top in 2015.

Eilish, who turned 18 in December, is the youngest artist ever to record a track for the Bond franchise.

The star performed No Time to Die live for the first time this week, at the Brit Awards in London.

She also picked up the prize for best international female at the ceremony.

  • Billie Eilish’s Bond theme is dramatic and audacious
  • The Brits mark turning 40 by refusing to look back

No Time To Die racked up 90,000 equivalent chart sales in its first week; including 10.6 million streams.

That makes it the biggest track of the year so far and also the fastest-selling Bond song (Smith’s shifted 70,000 in its first week).

‘Insane writer’s block’

Speaking to BBC Breakfast this week, Eilish said that her and brother/musical partner Finneas O’Connell had suffered an “intense amount of writer’s block” as soon as they were given the nod to produce the track.

Having made an unsuccessful attempt at writing it in a traditional recording studio, they eventually came up with the goods while on the road.

“We wrote and recorded the Bond song on a tour bus in Texas,” explained O’Connell.

A meeting with the Bond film boss Barbara Broccoli in Ireland, following one of their live shows, helped the writing process as she gave then “a little hint of the first scene”.

Broccoli followed that up by sending the pair the script for the opening sequence.

“It was so cool to read that,” said Eilish. “It was really helpful, it really wrote the song for us, I think”.

The finished song is a dramatic, unsettling ballad that hints the plot will centre around the secret agent’s betrayal, the BBC’s Mark Savage noted last week.

The lyrics to No Time To Die reference lies and deceit, as Eilish sings: “You were never on my side.”

Daniel Craig’s final outing as the world’s most famous British secret agent arrives in cinemas in April, and Eilish said the actor had a “big say” in who wrote the film’s opening track.

She admitted they’d already seen a “half-done” version of version of the film (minus their track), which looked “amazing”.

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Official Charts Company

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Licence to win: Eilish was issued with her number one trophy by the Official Charts Company

The star performed the new song alongside an orchestra, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and composer Han Zimmer at Tuesday’s Brit Awards.

Speaking to the BBC’s Colin Paterson backstage, she dedicated the performance to her fans.

“It was really nice that there were fans right up front that I could look at and smile at. I feel like that was the peak of it for me,” she said.

“They always prove to me every time I doubt myself that I don’t need to, because they are there.”

She added: “They really make me feel better about myself and make me feel like everything I do is worth it… I’m human, man!”

Eilish also revealed that her own favourite ever Bond song is… Adele’s Skyfall.

“I dunno, Adele is just Adele,” she laughed. “You’ve gotta give it to her.”

How have other Bond themes fared in the charts?

While Eilish and Smith reached the chart summit, two other official songs from the movie have taken the number two spot.

Duran Duran’s A View To A Kill peaked at number two in 1985, as did Adele’s Skyfall in 2012.

Despite winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe, Adele’s effort was denied top spot by Swedish House Mafia’s Don’t You Worry Child.

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Getty Images

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Billie Eilish wrote the new song alongside her brother and musical partner Finneas O’Connell

Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, in 1964, could only reach number 21 and when the Welsh singer returned in 1971 declaring Diamonds Are Forever, she went to number 38.

Sir Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles band Wings faired slightly better two years later with Live and Let Die reaching ninth place.

The worst performing Bond song was Rita Coolidge’s All Time High which reached 75th place in the charts in 1983.


Eilish’s 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?, went to number one on its release in April last year, making her the youngest-ever female solo artist to top the album chart.

Almost a year on, the indefatigable record is still hanging around in fourth spot in the album charts, where this week Justin Bieber snatched his second number one with Changes.

Renewed interest in Lewis Capaldi following his Brits double win ensured he pushed Bieber all the way, while Tame Impala’s new album The Slow Rush – the week’s best-selling album on vinyl – went in at number three.

Fewer than 1,200 chart sales separated the top three.


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Newly-discovered Rembrandt work to go on display in Oxford

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Art handlers moving the painting at the Ashmolean Museum in OxfordImage copyright
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The exhibition featuring Let The Little Children Come To Me opens at the Ashmolean Museum on Thursday 27 February

A newly-discovered Rembrandt painting will go on display for the first time, nearly 400 years since it was created.

Let The Little Children Come To Me will be shown at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as part of its Young Rembrandt exhibition.

The painting was discovered in 2014 by Amsterdam art dealer and historian Jan Six.

He identified a young man in the painting’s background as a self-portrait by Rembrandt.

The exhibition will explore the early years of the artist’s work from 1624-34.

Let The Little Children Come To Me is believed to have been painted around 1627-28.

The exhibition will feature 31 paintings by Rembrandt, 13 by his notable contemporaries and a further 90 drawings and prints from international and private collections.

Among those on display will be Rembrandt’s earliest known work, The Spectacles Seller (1624-25), which is described by the museum as a “crude, garishly coloured painting by an artist struggling with his medium”, as well as Jeremiah Lamenting The Destruction Of Jerusalem (1630), hailed as an “acknowledged masterpiece”.

The Young Rembrandt exhibition runs from 27 February until 27 June in the John Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries.



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Dot Cotton: Actress June Brown says she has left EastEnders ‘for good’

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June Brown as Dot Branning in EastEnders, sitting in an armchair drinking a cup of tea

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“You should appreciate your fans,” Brown told the podcast

Veteran EastEnders actress June Brown has said she has left her role as much-loved character Dot Cotton after 35 years.

“I’ve left for good,” said the 93-year-old in an interview with podcast Distinct Nostalgia.

She is one of the BBC soap’s longest-running characters and has become a firm favourite with viewers.

Her character Dot has not been in an episode since January. An EastEnders spokesman said the “door remains open”.

Brown joined the show in 1985, the year it was created.

In the last episode she featured in, aired last month, Dot Cotton – or Dot Branning – left a voicemail message for character Sonia Fowler saying she had moved to Ireland.

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Brown told the podcast she is hoping to do a documentary next

Asked by interviewer and former co-star Rani Singh whether EastEnders had put her on a retainer, Brown replied: “I don’t want a retainer. I’ve left. I’ve left for good.

“I’ve sent myself to Ireland and that’s where she’ll stay. I’ve left EastEnders.”

One of EastEnders’ best-known stars, Brown was in her late 50s when she joined Albert Square.

Actor Leslie Grantham, who played Dirty Den, suggested her for the role. Until then, Brown’s career had incorporated stage, film and television, with appearances in Coronation Street and Doctor Who.

“I think I got it because they thought I was a punctual actress,” Brown told the podcast, which aired a special episode to celebrate 35 years of EastEnders.

“I’m not really but I became so. In fact I became so punctual I used to be in an hour before I should be.”

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Media captionJune Brown: 90 years in 90 seconds

She said it “was a very strange feeling” leaving the soap.

“I was feeling rather down the other day,” she said. “I thought, ‘what’s the matter? Why do I feel so sad?’ It’s almost as if I’ve been bereaved.

“I’ve played two people simultaneously for 35 years. Really Dot wasn’t me, but spiritually she probably was.”

Brown took a four-year break from the soap between 1993 and 1997

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An episode from 2008 shows Dot being teased by a gang as she walks to the Tube

In 2008, Brown became the first actor in a British soap to carry an entire episode alone, with an emotional monologue dictated to a cassette for her screen husband to listen to in hospital following a stroke.

That same year she was made an MBE for services to drama and charity.

Last year, Brown revealed she was losing her sight after being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration and could no longer recognise her friends.

An EastEnders spokesman said: “We never discuss artists’ contracts, however as far as EastEnders are concerned the door remains open for June, as it always has if the story arises and if June wishes to take part.”



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