The Current War: Film Review

I was looking forward to The Current War because I felt like it would fill a gap in my knowledge – I knew nothing about George Westinghouse and his involvement with the evolution of electricity – but the film only offers a potted history and I felt ambivalent about the whole thing.

The film begins when Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) shows off his new form of energy – electricity – in a field in 1880. Realising it’s a worthy enterprise, Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) – who invented the railway air brake – ventures into electricity himself and they become competitors, with them going to war over whether Edison’s DC (direct) current or Westinghouse’s AC (alternating) current should be the one to power America.

It’s really hard to write a review about a film you felt completely indifferent about. It should have felt quite exciting, especially given that it was a new story to me, but it wasn’t. It also wasn’t as compelling as I’d hoped, perhaps because it starts after Edison has created electricity when I would have liked to see his discovery of it. It was interesting to a point, because I was still learning new information, but it jumped through time a lot so it felt like a highlights reel or a summary of what happened, so you could never really invest in the story. The timeline spans a number of years so I get that the history had to be abridged, but this felt too brief (for example, Edison’s wife Mary showed signs of illness and died within about 10 minutes).

Shannon and Cumberbatch put in reliably good performances as the energy giants. Westinghouse is a more sympathetic character, trying to take the high ground while Edison tries to smear his electricity distribution system in the press. But you can see why Edison would be so nasty, considering Westinghouse essentially rode on the coattails of his invention.

Even though he was only a supporting character, the star of the show for me was Tom Holland, who played Edison’s trusty assistant Samuel. He seemed warm, sweet and genuinely nice and gave an endearing performance. Nicholas Hoult did well as Nikola Tesla, who is frustrated that no one believes his electric motor will work, but he wasn’t in it as much as I’d have liked. Katherine Waterston was a refreshingly empowered character, given the time period, as Westinghouse’s wife Marguerite.

The Current War is an average biographical film with an uninspired script from Michael Mitnick. It just felt like a bullet point list of what happened – it didn’t given us any depth or fully rounded characterisation to invest in. I expected to be gripped by this competitive story but I was not. It’s quite forgettable.

In cinemas from Friday 26th July

Rating: 3/5

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