I Saw the Light (3 stars)

I Saw the Light

Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen illuminate this so-so Hank Williams biopic

Great talent often seems to go hand in hand with great personal turmoil and so it most definitely went with country star Hank Williams. Quintessential Englishman Tom Hiddleston is a leftfield choice to don the Stetson of the ‘Hillbilly Shakespeare’ but it’s a chance for the dapper thesp to flex his acting muscles and he’s fortunate enough to do so alongside the ever-impressive Elizabeth Olsen, riveting as Hank’s sexually confident, no-nonsense wife Audrey – her own aspirations as a singer providing a rich vein of marital tension.

I Saw the Light is the sophomore directorial effort from producer Marc Abraham (helmer of 2008’s little-seen Flash of Genius, the story of Robert Kearns, the man who fought Ford); he also wrote the screenplay and, sadly, fails to fashion a drama worthy of his stars’ admirable exertions. The smoky, sultry visuals from cinematographer Dante Spinotti (Heat, LA Confidential) are intoxicating enough but they can’t disguise a less than compelling narrative that unfolds in fits and starts.

We follow Hank from his hasty marriage and first flushes of success through acrimonious partings and alcoholism, all the way to his bitterly premature end. But, by skipping over his childhood (although his strangling relationship with his mother persists well into adulthood) and early musical development, the film foregoes the chance to unearth the real Williams, leaving him floundering like a rebel without a cause.

The interview inserts are jarring and superfluous, with no additional explanation needed for what we do see, they serve only to give Bradley Whitford the screen time he deserves as Hank’s otherwise sidelined manager and publisher Fred Rose. There’s a noticeable shortage of interesting supporting players more generally, and when the incendiary Audrey disappears from the main narrative thread the momentum and much of the film’s appeal goes with her; given his immaculately performed renditions of classics such as ‘Your Cheatin Heart’ and ‘Hey, Good Lookin’ the film is Hiddleston’s by a hair but Olsen very nearly steals it out from under him.

General release from Fri 6 May.

I Saw the Light

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 2h 4min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Marc Abraham
  • Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen
  • UK release: 6 May 2016

Biopic of country legend Hank Williams (Hiddleston), from his hasty marriage to no-nonsense wife Audrey (Olsen) through success to acrimonious partings and alcoholism. Visually intoxicating, and Hiddleston does a fine job with the songs, but when Audrey leaves the story much of the momentum and appeal goes with her. Less…