I Saw the Light

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Marc Abraham

Starring

Elizabeth Olsen Maddie Hasson Tom Hiddleston

Anticipation.

Uh-oh, is this Tom Hiddleston’s play for awards season credibility?

Enjoyment.

He’s great in this ramblin’, amblin’ film.

In Retrospect.

One of the better music biopics.

Tom Hiddleston showcases his flexibility as a performer by slipping into the boots of country troubadour Hank Williams.

Refusing to take a leaf out of the book of its workaholic, 11-million selling country troubadour subject, Marc Abraham’s I Saw the Light is a defiantly uncommercial take on the life a times of Hank Williams. He was a hellraiser with a glint in his eye who, if leading man Tom Hiddleston is to be believed, also had the broadest beaming smile on the circuit. At one point, Williams’ slide guitar player bemoans that the songs they play – three-chord ditties that exist to please the masses – are too basic, and what Abraham has done in response is produce a very simple, straight, three-chord biopic which (unlike Hank’s music) avoids sentimentality and trite romanticism.

The film takes place during the ’40s and ’50s, in and around the southern states, mostly Alabama and Nashville. It is built up of private episodes and a few hip-shuffling live performances, fused together via languid crossfades and largely shorn of exposition. Hiddleston’s performance is highly entertaining, capturing Williams as a lanky, charismatic sweetheart. He doesn’t wants you to love or hate his ol’ Hank. He simply demands that you empathise with him, to see that while he did some things which might seem cowardly and obnoxious, he remained something of an innocent – that he made decisions without the mindset of a hayseed philosopher.

The musical performances are superb, with Hiddleston even nailing the famous segues into Appalachian yodelling that form the bridges of chart hits like ‘Lovesick Blues’. Williams’ various bouts of illness, much of it due to his drinking, but also his worsening spina bifida, are never used as a reason to justify his actions. The film understands that it must have been deeply troubling – both physically and psychologically – to have to shoulder these conditions. But he did so as best he could and it affected his character rather than fully shaping it.

Published 5 May 2016

Tags: Tom Hiddleston

Anticipation.

Uh-oh, is this Tom Hiddleston’s play for awards season credibility?

Enjoyment.

He’s great in this ramblin’, amblin’ film.

In Retrospect.

One of the better music biopics.

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