A pioneering Victorian balloonist is being unfairly written out of history in a new Eddie Redmayne film in favour of a fictitious female character, the Royal Society has complained.
The historic academy says Henry Coxwell’s heroic exploits are being brushed over just so Redmayne can be reunited with his Theory of Everything co-star Felicity Jones in their upcoming movie The Aeronauts.
The record-breaking flight in 1862 nearly ended in disaster as the balloon ascended uncontrollably and its occupants, Coxwell and early meteorologist James Glaisher, began to pass out.
Their lives were only saved when, seven miles above sea level and at -29C, Coxwell climbed up into the rigging to release a trapped valve.
However, despite being on record as saying “authenticity” is crucial to the new film, its producers have preferred to overlook Coxwell’s bravery and replace him entirely with the imagined character Amelia Wren.
Keith Moore, Head of Library at the Royal Society, said: “It’s a great shame that Henry isn’t portrayed because he performed very well and saved the life of a leading scientist.
“Glaisher was just looking at his instruments - he was very much the cargo.”
A lifelong balloon enthusiast, Coxwell was one of a band of pioneering aeronauts devoted to pushing the boundaries of lighter-than-air flight.
In the 1860s he began working with Glaisher, who wanted to measure the atmosphere at its highest levels to gain insights into the forces governing weather.
On 5th September 1862, the pair lifted off from Wolverhampton with an array of instruments, some bottles of brandy and six pigeons, which were jettisoned at various altitudes to see how well they flew.
Higher than three miles they “dropped like a stone”, the pair recalled.
About four miles above the Earth Glaisher began to feel what he would later describe as “balloon sickness”, what modern scientists have said was probably was a condition akin to the bends.
“In an instance darkness overcame me...I believed I would experience nothing more as death would come unless we speedily descended,” he said.
An experienced aeronaut, Coxwell had lost control of his craft and was unable to release the crucial valve that would allow it to descend because it was caught around other ropes.
He was forced to climbed out of the basket and release the valve with his teeth.
Historians have estimated the balloon reached 37,000 feet, around the cruising height of a jumbo jet, before it started coming down.
“It was exceptionally brave climbing up into the shrouds,” said Mr Moore, adding that it is wrong to replace Coxwell with a fictitious female for another reason.
“There were so many deserving female scientists of that period who haven’t had films made about them.
“Why not do that instead?”
A fellow of the Royal Society, Glaisher undertook several more balloon flights with Coxwell over the following four years as he broadened his research into temperature and humidity at high altitude.
He later became president of the Royal Meteorological Society and the Royal Photographic Society.
Coxwell went on ballooning, including trying with little success to interest the Army in its military potential.
He died in Lewes, East Sussex, in 1900.
The new Aeronauts film will feature scenes shot by Redmayne and Jones at 2,000 feet in the air, captured by helicopter.
“A top priority for us on the The Aeronauts is authenticity,” said producer Todd Liberman.
“With that in mind, we intend to do as much balloon filming in the sky as the weather will allow.
Redmayne was spotted filming alongside Jones at Greenwich University last month.