The Theory of Flight

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For the science of flight see Aerodynamics.
The Theory of Flight
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Produced by Ruth Caleb
Anant Singh
Helena Spring
Written by Richard Hawkins
Starring Helena Bonham Carter
Kenneth Branagh
Gemma Jones
Holly Aird
Music by Rolfe Kent
Cinematography Ivan Strasburg
Edited by Mark Day
BBC Films
Distant Horizon
Distributed by Fine Line Features
Release dates
  • September 11, 1998 (1998-09-11) (Toronto International Film Festival)
Running time 101 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Theory of Flight is a 1998 film directed by Paul Greengrass, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh. Bonham Carter plays a woman with motor neurone disease, and the film deals with the sexuality of people with disabilities.


Richard (Branagh), an unsuccessful artist who builds primitive flying machines, attempts to fly from the roof of a London office building wearing homemade wings but fails, instead crash-landing and only being saved by a rescue squad. As a result of his actions Richard is sentenced to community service, in the form of caring for Jane (Bonham-Carter), an ill-tempered, wheelchair-bound woman who suffers from Lou Gehrig's Disease and has run off her previous caretakers.

Over time, Richard and Jane become friends, and eventually Jane asks Richard to help her find someone to lose her virginity to, explaining that she doesn't wish to die a virgin. Reluctantly Richard helps her search for an appropriate partner, while spending his free time building yet another experimental flying machine. Eventually the two settle on a high-priced male gigolo (Stevenson) for Jane, who agrees to sleep with her for two thousand pounds. As neither of them have that amount of money, they conclude that Richard must rob a bank to secure the needed cash.

Richard books a hotel suite for Jane and pays the gigolo five hundred pounds, promising the rest later. As Richard leaves for the bank job, the gigolo lays a very nervous Jane on the bed, but she begins panicking and decides she no longer wants to go through with it. Meanwhile, Richard likewise changes his mind, drawing his gun in the bank but then fleeing immediately, calling Jane's name. He returns to the room and drive off the unhappy gigolo.

Richard and Jane are seen successfully taking a flight in Richard's flying machine, although it breaks apart on landing. The pair are then seen in bed, implying that Richard has taken Jane's virginity. Jane dies soon after, and the film ends with Richard placing a commemorative sign honoring Jane's memory on the wreckage of his flying machine.



The Theory of Flight received mixed reception from critics and currently holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[1]

This was the last film reviewed by the noted film critics Gene Siskel, who gave the film a thumbs up, and Roger Ebert, who gave the film a thumbs down, on Siskel and Ebert at The Movies before Siskel's death on 20 February 1999.[2]


  1. ^ "The Theory of Flight". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Gene's last show 23 January 1999. Retrieved 24 January 2012.

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