The Theory of Flight

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For the science of flight see Aerodynamics.
The Theory of Flight
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Greengrass
Produced byRuth Caleb
Anant Singh
Helena Spring
Written byRichard Hawkins
Music byRolfe Kent
CinematographyIvan Strasburg
Edited byMark Day
BBC Films
Distant Horizon
Distributed byFine Line Features
Release date
  • 11 September 1998 (1998-09-11) (TIFF)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Theory of Flight is a 1998 film directed by Paul Greengrass from a screenplay written by Richard Hawkins. It stars Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh.

It premiered at the 23rd Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 1998. 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 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 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 (Ray Stevenson) for Jane, who agrees to sleep with her for two thousand pounds. As neither of them has 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 drives 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]

It was the last film reviewed on-air by film critic Gene Siskel on Siskel and Ebert at the Movies before his death on 20 February 1999. Siskel gave the film a thumbs up, while his critic partner Roger Ebert gave the film a thumbs down.[2]


  1. ^ "The Theory of Flight (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  2. ^ "Gene's last show 23 January 1999". Siskel& Retrieved 24 January 2012.

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