I Saw the Light (2015)
Director: Marc Abraham
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Maddie Hasson, Wrenn Schmidt
123min | Biopic |
Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen are the stars in Marc Abraham’s tribute to US country music legend Hank Williams which takes its title from one of the best loved songs by the singer. The biopic charts Williams’ rise to fame from his 1944 marriage to Audrey, at a petrol station in Alabama when he was just a small time ‘country’ singer, through to his tragic death from heart failure at only 29 as the best-selling, chart-topping superstar headlining the “Grand Ole Opry “show in Nashville, Tennessee (1953).
Abraham’s narrative focus here is very much on Williams’ failed love affairs that started with Audrey and continued with a series of other women, culminating in his second marriage to Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson), as he desperately sought emotional support, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, to sustain him through his short but meteoric musical career.
The film takes its title from ‘I Saw the Light’, one of the most popular songs by the country legend, but another song ‘Lovesick Blues’, would have been more appropriate for a story that fails to distill the spirit and joy of Williams’ phenomenal contribution to the music scene in 1940’s America, concentrating instead on his rather maudlin marital turmoil and succession of sad love affairs, overshadowed by the domineering presence of his widowed mother Lillie (Cherry Jones).
Tom Hiddleston dazzles in the role and the renditions – his tall and willowy frame ideal for the part of a man who suffered from a rare form of spina bifida, leaving him occasionally crippled, bedridden and addicted to painkillers. Complete with cowboy suites encrusted with diamante and an ubiquitous cowboy stetson he really looks convincing, and although he feels miscast, despite sterling efforts, in evoking the folksy charm of a “lil’ ole Southern boy” and part-time philanderer: Williams’ off-piste activities feel cheeky and playfully forgivable in Hiddleston’s take. As Audrey, Elizabeth Olsen has the same hard-voiced, unsympathetic edge to her character as she does in Avengers, competing with Williams in the singing arena, peddling her own canoe and nearly submerging his own showboat in the process as a rather bullish femme fatale who comes to the marriage with a child and has a cherished boy with Williams as they serially split and regroup in a partnership where she appears to wear the trousers.
Ultimately, I SAW THE LIGHT doesn’t carry a candle to recent biopics such as Love & Mercy and even Miles Ahead which have better showcased their artists’ iconic 20th century American success stories. None of the musical numbers here really shine out as the enduring classics that they undoubtedly have become in the American ‘country’ consciousness.
Yet despite its failure to set the musical world on fire, there’s much to be admired in Merideth Boswell’s set design and some stunning set pieces as the luminescent Lousiana landscapes really come alive in the capable hands of Michael Mann’s regular DoP Dante Spinotti (Heat/L.A.Confidential). MT
NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 MAY 2016