The Current War Review

How many geniuses does it take to change the light bulb?

Three, according to the star studded movie The Current War, which plots the battle between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla to bring electricity to America.

The year is 1884 and renowned inventor Thomas Edison is on the cusp of changing the world having created an energy source that can provide light at the flick of a switch.

But the invention of electricity won’t be good news for everyone – particularly business magnate George Westinghouse.

Having made his fortune in railway engineering, Westinghouse invested in the dominant energy source of the age – natural gas – but Edison’s invention will remove human civilisation’s dependence on gas and jeopardise both George’s lifestyle and his legacy.

Realising he’s more businessman than genius, Westinghouse decides that the smartest thing he can do is go into business with Edison and bankroll his new energy source.

Having been burned from the theft of his previous inventions, Edison isn’t keen on jumping into bed with Westinghouse and spurns his advances – setting in motion a race between these two men to see who can master electricity first and distribute their own alternate version to the masses.

You’d think the story of how electricity came to be the dominant energy source of our age would come with an electrifying story to match, unfortunately The Current War seems to have developed a short circuit here.

With a somewhat tortured past mired in Harvey Weinstein’s conscious uncoupling from his own company, it’s taken two years for The Current War to go from the festival circuit to the cinema.

The starry cast features Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterson, Tom Holland amongst others, and everything’s shot and put together beautifully.

And yet you can’t escape the feeling that something integral is missing from The Current War.

The ending doesn’t help, as an hour and a half of creeping tension builds towards a tepid first – and final – scene between Cumberbatch’s Edison and Shannon’s Westinghouse at the 1893 World’s Fair.

Personally, I wanted something a little more illuminating to go with the rivalry between these two men, though it’s hard to argue with how real life events played out.

Nicholas Hoult’s Tesla comes and goes as curiously as he arrives – first working for Edison, then Westinghouse, then disappearing just as quickly as he’d arrived.

There are some other interesting but disposable footnotes, such as Edison inventing the first electric chair purely as a means to besmirch Westinghouse’s name, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that The Current War ends up amounting to rather less than its considerable parts.

Jonathan Campbell

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