I’ve always been a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, and ever since we saw him at Wellington Armageddon last year, I’ve taken a bit of a liking to Nicholas Hoult. So yes, I was pretty keen for The Current War.
The film opens up to the sultry tones of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cringey American accent. I writhed a bit while watching the trailer, and I writhed a bit now. But after that first scene I totally forgot how much I didn’t like it. I was swept up by the amazing story The Current War tells and the beautiful way it expresses it.
Based on the efforts to bring electric light to the USA, The Current War is a compelling battle between George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) and Nikola Tesla (Hoult). I didn’t know much about any of all this; and I’m glad I didn’t because the movie was a really, really good ride.
“Good” doesn’t seem an emphatic enough word to describe the film, but there’s no better way to explain how I felt. I felt good, watching it. I felt an absolute contentment from seeing something come together so well. It was so well written, so well paced, and so well edited.
One of my favourite moments was a montage of the Chicago World Fair, where they split the screen into three squares, each square showing different points and moments of the fair. It evoked that old timey newspaper photograph look, or the feeling of looking at the first examples of film. It was so cool to watch and I enjoyed the time they spent lingering in this unexpected format.
I saw The Current War with my mum, and she, a prolific movie watcher, commented on how well made it was. Not in a shiny, this-obviously-had-heaps-of-money-behind-it kind of way, but you could tell everyone behind it had a respect for the art of film. And I think that’s what made it feel so good to watch.
Let me talk about the actors. I didn’t know George Westinghouse was a person (to my parents’ shock), so I didn’t care so much for him as a character in the beginning. But by the second act, Michael Shannon made sure I paid attention to him. Both Cumberbatch and Shannon brought such presence to their roles, so much so that I believed they were both impressive powerhouses and real people. Which I think is an incredible feat.
Other notable mentions, was the unwittingly awkward Nikola Tesla played by the talented Nicholas Hoult, and the bold, boy-faced assistant to Edison played by Tom Holland. But perhaps the person who stood out to me the most, despite her small screen time in comparison to everyone else, was Katherine Waterston as Marguerite Westinghouse, George Westinghouse’s wife.
I was impressed with both wives of Westinghouse and Edison (Tuppence Middleton), both shown as intelligent in their own right, with lives and thoughts of their own. The Current War doesn’t pass the infamous Bechdel test, but I found it respected them and their parts in the whole ‘war’. Their time on screen may have been short, but they didn’t feel like small parts either.
I’ve found that people disagree with me entirely on this film. Sure you can tell who the “winner” of the current war is going to be, you probably already know it because history. But the film isn’t about who won or lost. It’s about the war itself and who the players were. The movie made no attempt to get me to side with anyone. I just sat and watched flawed geniuses do their best to reach their incredibly lofty goals.
In all honesty, I didn’t think I would appreciate this film as much as I did. I enjoy delving into history, and I adore films. So if you too love the art of filmmaking, or you love history, or you just love watching Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Shannon, then I highly recommend you see The Current War. It really is a treat.