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‘History should not be airbrushed’, historians complain as Wolverhampton’s role in record-breaking balloon flight left out of Aeronauts film

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The Aeronauts film has come under fire by a historian who has warned history should not be “airbrushed” after Wolverhampton’s role in a record-breaking balloon flight was left out of the film.

The Hollywood blockbuster starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne has its nationwide release on Monday.

But the film has attracted criticism for failing to acknowledge the important historical role the West Midlands city played in the record-breaking balloon flight that saw aeronaut Henry Coxwell and a meteorologist James Glaisher fly up to 37,000ft, higher than had ever been previously managed before.

Historian Jefny Ashcroft accused the filmmakers of airbrushing history by moving the flight’s launch from Wolverhampton to London.

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

“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,” she added.

The film has already faced criticism for replacing the pilot Mr Coxwell with a fictional female character, Amelia Wren, who is played by Felicity Jones.

Ms Ashcroft told the BBC that the pilot came to the rescue when the balloon rose to a height where there was a lack of oxygen and the temperature plummeted.

“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.”

The men took off in The Mammoth balloon from Wolverhampton Gasworks on 5 September 1862 with the aim of furthering the study of meteorology. In the process they managed to set a new record for soaring higher than anyone had done before.

Glaisher, who is played by Redmayne, mainly intended to measure the differences in temperature as the balloon rose higher and to record other information at different heights.

The Wolverhampton location was reportedly chosen because it was far enough away from the sea to guard against the balloon floating out to sea and the gasworks could supply the fuel to power the balloon.

The film’s director Tom Harper has defended the decision to replace Coxwell with a fictional female character.

“[Glaisher 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,” he told the BBC.

“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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