The dramatic story of the cutthroat race between electricity titans Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to determine whose electrical system would power the modern world.
‘The Current War’ was one of the unfortunate films that found itself becoming collateral damage in the Harvey Weinstein scandal that brought down his production company. So almost two years later than its intended release, it finally arrives in cinemas, dumped unceremoniously at the height of summer with little or no fanfare, a far cry from its original intention as an Oscar contender. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, two inventors racing against one another to deliver electricity to the masses, with both men believing in different approaches to develop the technology. ‘The Current War’ is about how this event played out and I enjoyed it more than I expected too.
Thomas Edison is the name that first comes to mind when electricity is mentioned, even for someone such as myself who prior to this film had a shamefully limited knowledge of this important chapter in history, so I really enjoyed understanding more about how this story unfolded. Set just before the turn of the 20th century, the film splits its time between Edison (Cumberbatch) and his focus on direct current, and Westinghouse (Shannon), who is focused on alternating current. Edison has the financial backing, the fame and the contacts, but Westinghouse has a cheaper, more efficient solution, and I found his story a lot more interesting than Edison’s, who veered too close to the tortured genius trope, not helped by Cumberbatch who regularly plays these sort of roles. There are supporting roles for Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston and notably, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, another famous name from this time period. When the film is at its best it really emphasises the excitement around the development of electricity, at a time when this must have felt like genuine magic, and I enjoyed the scenes that ponder the nature of legacy vs achievement. Westinghouse ultimately paved the way to bring electricity to the masses, yet Edison is the name everyone remembers (although not just for electricity, I may add).
‘The Current War’ does fall into some standard biopic traps and it feels like it’s been chopped and changed in the edit quite a lot, leaving some characters feeling underserviced, but as a depiction of an important period of history, I thought it was informative, well put together and entertaining for the most part, even if it doesn’t quite reach the levels it aspires too.
Directed By: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland, Matthew Macfadyen, Celyn Jones and Tuppence Middleton