Emotional Charge

The Current War, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, arrives in the UK almost two years after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Then it was an Oscar hopeful, but within weeks it was shelved after being caught up in the scandals surrounding The Weinstein Company. Now, after being re-cut by the director, it hits UK cinemas, seemingly bruised by its long road to release.

The film itself deals with the intense rivalry between two pioneers in the field of electricity – Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). Scripted by Michael Mitnick, the story is set in the late-1800s, with the world rushing towards modernity – symbolised, perhaps, by the moment Edison demonstrates his light bulb to a field of New York money men, illuminating this patch of dirt with rings of brightness.

Cumberbatch adds yet another genius figure to his collection (Dr. Strange, Alan Turing, Sherlock Holmes, Stephen Hawking), with Edison painted to be a man driven towards his work at all costs, even at the expense of giving much-needed emotional care to his wife (Tuppence Middleton) and children. Westinghouse, married to the loving Marguerite (Katherine Waterston), is a more stable figure; he has great respect for his workers, and even was an early proponent of the five-day week.

While the race to light up America and the world gets dirty, with smear campaigns becoming the order of the day, somehow, The Current War doesn’t quite generate the spark you’d hope, despite a first-rate cast that also includes Spider-Man star Tom Holland as Edison’s long-suffering secretary, Matthew Macfadyen as financier J.P. Morgan and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-born pioneer whose work is entirely undervalued by Edison.

Indeed, Hoult’s excellent performance – even if not quite on the level of David Bowie, who played Tesla in Chris Nolan’s The Prestige – appears similarly undervalued in a film that never quite unites its disparate elements. In truth, it’s something of a mystery, given the impressive roll call of actors and the huge stakes, both personal and professional, that the story entails. But Gomez-Rejon, even after cutting the film by ten minutes, leaves audiences in the dark.

The Current War opens on 26 July. For more details, visit Entertainment Film Distributors.

James Mottram

1. Still from
The Current War.