The Current War

To me AC/DC is a world-famous band. I can’t even tell you without checking Wikipedia that they also stand for alternating and direct current respectively. That’s how au fait I am in the subject matter of  The Current War.

This film is about the all-out competition between Thomas Edison, the renowned inventor, and George Westinghouse, the gas lighting tycoon, who with the help of underrated genius Nikola Tesla battled to bring electricity to light up America.

The general allure of the film is that it stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison but he did not spark my interest much. As a devoted father and family man who claimed to have no financial interest in winning the fight other than personal honour, his rather dastardly trick in advising proponents of the death penalty to use his rival’s current – and thus discredit him – seems rather out of character (this I believe really happened, something not always to be taken for granted in so-called biopics). I wondered if the part grabbed him as he seems rather half-hearted in the role.

There is a good support cast, Nicklas Hoult as Tesla, Michael Shannon as a rather sympathetic be-whiskered Westinghouse, whose ruthless Lady-Macbeth wife (Katherine Waterston) has probably one of the most interesting roles in driving his ambition. Mathew McFadyen is Edison’s backer, JP Morgan, with the largest cherry-red nose seen on screen – as remarked on by Edison’s cheeky young son; Tuppence Middleton his loving wife, a more sympathetic character than her opposite number.

Despite all these ticks in the box, the film does not light up the screen or illuminate my mind. I am parroting the rather cheesy pun of the title here. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon might have worked with many famous bosses on several big screen successes – Martin Scorsese, Nora Ephron, Robert De Niro, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Kevin Macdonald, Ryan Murphy and Ben Affleck, but the star-dust doesn’t seem to have rubbed off in this ponderous and quite frankly dull recounting of this tale of three – yes, Tesla has to be up there despite being side-lined in this re-telling – inventors who changed our lives. I speak here as someone who has no knowledge of physics and little of science; if you had both it might all mean more. As it is there is little real drama in the tale and I even closed my eyes once or twice.

My real gripe is that there is a plethora of films ‘based on a true story’ and they fill me with great unease. What is true and what is embellished? To what extent has the truth been altered to suit the box office? Is the character portrayal correct? Rewriting history to suit popular taste is dead dodgy and does little to enlighten general knowledge on the whole. I would much rather see a documentary about how electricity took over from gas lights and became such a life-changing phenomenon. The documentary Apollo 11 was riveting from start to finish. QED

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