Based on the book "Hank Williams: The Biography" by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William Macewen, writer/director Marc Abraham chose to keep his biopic (a term he dislikes) limited to Williams' six years of stardom in "I Saw the Light". Tragically he died at the age of 29 on New Year's Day of 1953.
Williams, played superbly by Tom Hiddleston, started in the music business in Alabama, but his dream was the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. His wife, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), is also a singer, but not a very good one. She planned to sing with him, but that soon came to an end --- a situation which causes many problems for the young couple.
Aided by his producer, song publisher and important "father" figure, Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford), Williams' prolific songwriting, awesome vocals and sex appeal catapult him to early "rock star" status. But issues with booze and pain killers begin to sidetrack Williams, and eventually cause his death.
Hiddleston "sings every note in the film" according to Abraham. The two artists were present at a Q & A after a screening of the film, and shared a great deal of insight regarding the film. Hiddleston's performance is incredibly lovely and moving --- truly the best part of the movie. He spent many months preparing for the role --- learning Williams' dialect and singing nuances --- and it shows.
Olsen is equally enthralling. She is such a gifted actor and plays off of Hiddleston beautifully. The best scene in "I Saw the Light" --- according to Hiddleston and me --- showcases Hank and Audrey singing a lullaby to their new baby. It is the perfect example of good filmmaking and acting.
Unfortunately, not all of "I Saw the Light" is as compelling. Despite Hiddleston's masterful portrayal, Abraham's script is very uneven --- and it's all about the writing. Scenes which should have been wrought with tension are too quickly glossed over and never fully developed.
"I Saw the Light" is an okay movie with strong acting. For all of his preparation and hard work, Hiddleston deserves better.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
You don't necessarily have to like country music to be entertained by "I Saw The Light", a drama about six years in the life of legendary singer Hank Williams. The joy and singing ability which British actor Tom Hiddleston brings to the lead role is totally engaging. How can anyone not like "Hey, Good Lookin'", with its infectious, toe-tapping rhythm?
The film opens with Hank getting married to Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) by a justice of the peace. They were just 21 years old, glowing with happiness and brimming with anticipation --- but unaware of the turbulent years ahead.
We are not privy to Williams' early years, and that's the way second-time director Marc Abraham, who also penned the screenplay based on Colin Escott's 1994 book, wanted it. His intent was to center on the period which saw Hank rise to the peak of Grand Ole Opry popularity, including 35 songs that ranked in the Top 10 of C&W, 11 of which reached Number One, three of those posthumously.
Unfortunately, Williams' rise in the music world coincided with a serious case of spina bifida. This led to drug and alcohol abuse as he struggled with severe back pain throughout his short adult life.
Olsen is terrific as the young wife and mother who also wants to be a singing star, but her substantial chutzpah is offset by a lack of talent. Lizzy, as she prefers, won the Chicago Film Critics Most Promising Performer award just five years ago for the cult film "Martha Marcy May Marlene", and at 27 is a rapidly rising star. She is formidable playing Mrs. Williams.
Hiddleston is a marvel in this film. When he's on stage singing to adoring audiences, he's literally in another place. Doing all his own vocals, Hiddleston is transformed into Hank Williams, right down to his frilly costumes and ever-present cowboy hat. Yet he's essentially an actor within an actor, disguising the pain he suffers off stage, both physically and emotionally.
"I Saw The Light" is highly entertaining, featuring two very competent performances from its lead stars. Despite its focus on a short period in the life of Hank Williams, we get to know the man, and, in the context of music history, we appreciate the huge talent he shared with the world, if only briefly.
Opinion: See It Now!