I Saw The Light (15, 106mins)
Director: Marc Abraham
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Maddie Hasson
When it came to casting Hank Williams, legendary honky-tonk singer from the Deep South, there was only one choice: who else but Old Etonian and Cambridge classicist Tom Hiddleston?
That’s a joke, of course; the idea of casting the erudite, clean-cut English public school boy as the Alabama-born country singer legend with a serious booze habit seems quite preposterous. Certainly, plenty of eyebrows were raised among fans.
The influential singer-songwriter died in 1953, leaving behind a legacy that inspired Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan among others.
Hits such as Lovesick Blues, Hey Good Lookin’ and the titular I Saw The Light dominated the Billboard charts in his short lifetime (he died aged 29) and paved the way for rock ’n’ roll and folk music.
Needless to say he was more good ’ol boy than old school tie.
It’s something of a surprise, therefore, to report that Hiddleston is not only very good but the best thing about the film.
His casting is the one, counter-intuitive choice in what is otherwise a heavily traditional rags-to-riches-to-self-destruction storyline that borders on the pedestrian.
We first meet Williams marrying his girlfriend Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) in, for reasons unexplained, an Alabama petrol station, the ceremony being performed by the greasy-overalled mechanic.
Audrey wants to be a singer, too, and their predictably “tumultuous” relationship drives much of the drama, along with Williams’s battles with alcohol, drugs and a mild form of spina bifida.
With little insight into his creativity, we observe Williams smoothly advance from local radio performer to chart-topping country legend and mainstay of the Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville. “How and why you got it? Nobody knows that except the Lord,” opines one lady, rather unhelpfully.
Instead of exploring or even particularly enjoying his music, the picture dwells on his personal troubles and explosive relationship with Audrey, literally so on one occasion when he goes wild with a loaded pistol.
The most insightful scene is an uncomfortable encounter with a New York journalist (David Krumholtz) to whose probing Williams opens up a fraction. “Everyone has a little darkness in them and I show it to them, so they don’t have to take it home,” he says.
Hiddleston is wholly convincing as the tortured star, performing the songs himself with a satisfyingly deep rumble.
Clearly, you can take the boy out of Eton and Eton out of the boy.