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Film review: The Current War

It seems a shame that The Current War has been released in the middle of the Summer holidays, when cinema goers are usually looking for fun superhero style entertainment, animated franchise entries or Disney remakes. It will probably flounder like Doctor Who at 8.30pm on a Sunday night, and go unnoticed in screen 12 of your local multiplex with an after 9pm start time. I suppose it is a hard sell, inspired by the true events that surrounded the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the race to become the suppliers of a safe electrical system across the USA.

However director Alfonso Gomez – Rejon, tackles what seems initially a historical info dump, with the enthusiasm more akin to a Marvel movie, using all the tricks of the trade to make this a visually striking piece of film making. The camera swoops and dives through the scenes, often tracking characters as they move and converse, making everything somehow more interesting. The initial shot of Edison, Benedict Cumberbatch, standing in a swirling white back drop, could almost be from some upcoming Doctor Strange film. Benedict is also an executive producer on the film, along with Martin Scorcese, so there must gave been something in the screenplay that attracted their attention.

As the story develops, we learn a lot about something we never think about. The lights in your house mainly, and of course eventually everything else. It is a subject I would venture very few of us know much about at all, but the machinations of Edison, Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, played by Nicholas Hoult, provide intrigue and drama without dragging us through a mine field of exposition and explanation. As we follow the lives of the characters, we see their family, friends and business associates but thankfully it all has time to breathe naturally letting us see the relationships play out without shouting at us at every turn.

The cast are all on form, and with Tom Holland playing secretary to Edison, there is probably enough footage of the cast for some clever YouTube-er to give us the first meeting of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Beast from The X-Men. Fans of Science should get a kick out of the principles explored as the engineers go head to head with each other, trying to convince a nation that Ac is better than DC, insert your own jokes here, but fans of costume drama should also take note, as the styles of the very late 1800s are brought to life like the light bulbs that pervade the run time of this film.

There are some wonderful visuals too, wide shots of America in the throws of becoming, quite literally, illuminated, and wonderful and ornate sets, or locations, including the best fire place you will see in a film this year. This film will not be for everyone, but I would recommend a view if you have a night to pass. It is directed with flair, despite some strange editing choices, but the story has more heart than you would expect, and it should be placed on the school curriculum for science students to learn the fascinating story of Edison alone. As well as his contribution to lighting a nation, Edison was behind so many other major inventions, including motion pictures. It is almost ironic that this one may fall down a memory hole, due to bad timing and production problems.