Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy star in director Damien Chazelle’s (La La Land) real-life drama about the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. After losing his two-year-old daughter Karen to cancer, Neil Armstrong (Gosling) enrols in the space programme where his apparent disregard for his own safety is a distinct advantage. Armstrong’s wife Janet (Foy) understandably feels very differently. The film opens with a pilot being shaken violently in a cockpit as his aircraft forces its way ever higher towards the earth’s atmosphere, and through to 140,000 feet, the height at which he is to make his return. But he bounces off the atmosphere and continues to rise, before eventually plummeting back towards the earth. He gains control of the craft. He narrowly misses a mountain top. Then lands safely, saying simply and with some detachment, ‘I’m down’. Cut to a hospital room where Neil and Janet watch anxiously as their daughter is treated for cancer. It is the unimaginable situation for all parents – your beautiful child in pain, pain that you want to take for them, but you can’t. Janet and Neil lose Karen, and Neil signs up for the space programme, even though he is grieving and still has a wife and son. These scenes set the tone for the film – the tension between having the mentality and physical courage to accept, or ignore, the dangers of pushing the boundaries of human endeavour versus the courage required to be present in the intensely private and emotionally precarious world of family life. Does losing his daughter make Neil Armstrong a liability, a danger to himself and others? Or does his shuttering of his own feelings uniquely prepare him to be the first man on the moon?
First Man – Saturday 9pm on channel 4