The Current War: A powerhouse of energetic character and electrifying performances

9th July 2019

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon finally gets his film released from its initial delay in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. In the two years since, Alfonso delivers his edit of the film cutting it back by ten minutes from its initial release at the Toronto International Film Festival – benefiting from a Director’s Cut. Fans hungry for the film which boasts a stellar cast will be happy to know that the wait has only matured the film like a wine.

The Current War refers to the adoption of either Alternating Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC), each championed by some of the foremost scientists of the day. Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has thrown all his money and celebrity behind DC, while the more pragmatic and chivalrous George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) stands behind AC. The two men rarely share any screen time, located on opposing coasts of America, but they’re both infatuated with the other.

Scene from The Current War.

Alfonso begins with a bright, colourful vignette of the two men and their pursuit of understanding electricity. The camera work is beautiful, though can be a nauseating whirlwind of transitions; once everyone is brought up to speed the film slows down into a comfortable pace. From there the focus returns from spectacle to performance, Shannon, Cumberbatch and Nicholas Hoult (playing a very dapper Nikola Tesla) excel in these roles. In an attempt to discredit Westinghouse, Edison employs dirty tricks as he becomes more and more desperate to win.

Based on people with big personalities – Tesla was born in a thunderstorm – allows the actors to emphasise their gravitas and their own personal stories. It’s a complex story weaved expertly by Alfonso, but it is also fun and extremely entertaining. Inherently funny is the impact these men will have – when Edison visits JP Morgan it’s at a time when the original JP Morgan is alive with a personality and not the behemoth firm it is now.

Not that the film is all about the men. Katherine Waterston is the under-stimulated intellectual wife of Westinghouse, her desire for more interesting conversation is palpable when she lights up with him to discuss electricity. Conversely Tuppence Middleton is the lovely and devoted wife to Thomas Edison. Rounding out the cast is a young impressionable Tom Holland – superhero fans may snigger at watching Spider-Man play assistant to Doctor Strange.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Current War.

As the film progresses so does the technology. There’s a tragedy in the new inventions which are used both to create joy and pain, electricity bringing forth the electric chair is the obvious allusion. However, it is when Edison creates a way of recording voice, that he uses this new technology in a pitiful way akin to Black Mirror. The attraction of new technology culminates in the World’s Fair, where Edison and Westinghouse compete for supremacy.

What sounds like a dull film turns into a powerhouse of energetic character and electrifying performances. The beautiful cinematography elevates the film to a grand scale, accompanied by a clever score. Living up to the legacy of a Director’s cut, The Current War is a passion project that will light you up.

The Current War will be in cinemas on the 26th July, 2019.

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