When I was asked to review The Current War, I jokingly said that I’m very keen to check out a film about two blokes fighting over raisins. Of course, this film is anything but. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, The Current War is a fantastic dramatisation of the events during the 1880s at the height of the race to develop sustainable lighting following the invention of the incandescent light bulb in 1879.
The Current War originally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2017. However, the general release was placed on hold due to the Harvey Weinstein scandals. With the Weinstein Company out of action, it was picked up by Lantern Entertainment and was eventually released in public theatres almost two years later. Then, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting almost everything on hold, it only came out in Australia in June. After hearing about the film some time ago, and being excited because, well, who doesn’t love them some Benedict Cumberbatch, I was excited to finally get the chance to see it in cinemas.
After the unveiling of the Incandescent Light Bulb by Edison in 1880, Westinghouse was keen to learn more about this new technology and possible future joint ventures with Edison. However, after Edison snubbed Westinghouse’s invite to dinner, and with their egos both as big as each other, it was war. Edison was using the Direct Current method to light the bulbs and whilst this is significantly cheaper than the previous gas method that lit the lanterns that lined the streets, DC is highly restricted with the range it provided. Westinghouse, determined to undermine Edison’s achievements, decides to proceed with the development of Alternating Current to power the lights. Not only does AC have a drastically further range than DC, it is also highly volatile and dangerous. After Edison discovers this move by Westinghouse, he sets out sabotage Westinghouse’s operation by proving that AC can kill.
Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon are brilliant in this film. However, I feel that Cumberbatch’s notable ability to portray egotistic madmen leaves his portrayal of Thomas Edison shining brighter (pun intended) and stronger on-screen. Shannon’s portrayal of Westinghouse is not to go unnoticed, as the brooding frustrated inventor. There is also a couple more Marvel film alumni with Tom Holland as Edison’s assistant Samuel Insull and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, both of which are fantastic in their roles.
Not only is The Current War an enjoyable and clever history lesson, it is also visually stunning. The set designs and fantastic costume design make this one of the best historical films I have seen in a long time. Although this film is primarily about the ‘Current War’, there are also little hints to Edison’s other inventions throughout the film. This provides the audience with incredible insight into Edison’s work ethic and brilliantly inventive mind.
The Current War is sheer brilliance and I am extremely thankful I was able to venture out to the cinema during our brief few weeks of freedom in Victoria to see it at the cinema. I feel I might not have appreciated the film as much if I was forced to watch it on a streaming service. In saying that, it is a film that deserves your attention in whatever way possible.
Whilst most of Victoria is unfortunately back into lockdown, the film is still showing and several cinemas around Australia. Check your local guides for showtimes.