In a career spanning just six years, country music star Hank Williams recorded over 30 hit records including Your Cheatin’ Heart and Hey, Good Lookin’ but writer-director Marc Abraham’s biopic stubbornly refuses to illuminate Williams’ meteoric rise to fame, his indelible impact on 1940s and 1950s American culture, or the volatile personal relationships that kindled his songwriting genius.
I Saw The Light mixes real news footage with faux black and white interviews with industry mavens, who were instrumental in his dizzying ascent. “I liked Hank straight off. I think it was because he didn’t give a damn if you liked him,” confides song publisher Fred Rose, played by Bradley Whitford. That facet of Williams’ personality doesn’t resonate in the film, or in the performance of British actor Tom Hiddleston, who sports a Stetson and a silky Alabama accent, but is too old to play the troubled figure from ages 23 to 29. The film opens in 1944 at an Alabama gas station, where Hank marries his sweetheart Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen).
When Hank’s song Love Sick Blues reaches the top of the country chart, he seems destined for greatness but his publisher and manager (Whitford) and his mother Lillie (Cherry Jones) can’t curb his excesses and Hank careens towards the brink of self-destruction.