I Saw the Light

 

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Tom Hiddleston, very much the actor of the moment, gives a distinguished performance in an unexpected role.

 
I Saw the Light

 

The really good news about this film written and directed by Marc Abraham is that it illustrates two things so well: Tom Hiddleston’s star quality and his range. Until now he has played characters, both in films and for television, which, however varied, have more often than not been English to the core. Here, however, he fits with ease into the role of the American singer Hank Williams who died on New Year’s Day in 1953 at the age of 29 and is the subject of this biopic. As the film tracks the singer’s history from 1944 onwards his portrayal seems deeply considered, and in adopting an American persona and persuasively representing a real-life figure he undoubtedly triumphs. Furthermore, when it comes to the handful of songs that he is called on to perform, he shows that he can sing rather well too.

At its close the film reminds us that Williams had thirty six hits in his relatively short career and the young man from Alabama did indeed win much acclaim at the Grand Ole Opry. But, despite being popular in their day, his songs which range from “Lovesick Blues” to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by way of “Hey Good Lookin’, What You Got Cookin’?” hardly suggest a major talent. That, at least, is my feeling on comparing Williams with Loretta Lynn and Mavis Staples, two truly remarkable talents celebrated in recent filmed tributes. That matters because I Saw the Light asks us to be interested in the life story of this man and in his uneasy marriage to Audrey Mae Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) who was riled by the limited support he gave her when she tried to exercise her own questionable vocal talent. Olsen makes Audrey credible enough but not sympathetic and Williams himself is no more appealing being an alcoholic and a womaniser whose unreliability when due to perform ultimately scuttled his career.

In part Williams’s behaviour may have been due to spina bifida belatedly diagnosed, but the film tends to be rather vague on detail – as indeed is the case when it touches on an abortion suffered by Audrey. An eventual divorce, the fathering of an illegitimate child and a second marriage are covered, but it is difficult to care. If only we had seen Williams and Audrey before their marriage, there might have been more reason to feel greater concern later when things go wrong for them. Despite its chronicle of bad behaviour, the film may well be welcomed by those who cherish Hank Williams as a singer but, since he died over sixty years ago, one wonders how many share Marc Abraham’s intense interest in him. The fact is that this film arouses far more enthusiasm for Hiddleston than for Williams.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, Maddie Hasson, Wrenn Schmidt, David Krumholtz, Josh Pais.

 

Dir Marc Abraham, Pro Marc Abraham, G, Marq Roswell, Brett Ratner and Aaron L. Gilbert, Screenplay (based on the book Hank Williams: the Biography by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William MacEwen) Marc Abraham, Ph Dante Spinotti, Pro Des Merideth Boswell, Ed Alan Heim, Music Aaron Zigman, Costumes Lahly Poore-Ericson.

 

Sony Pictures Classics/CW Media Finance/a Bron Studios and RatPac Entertainment production-Sony Pictures Releasing UK.
124 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 6 May 2016. Cert. 15.