Hiddleston makes an exceptional Hank Williams in ‘I Saw the Light’

Elizabeth Olsen and Tom Hiddleston in "I Saw the Light." (MTSU Sidelines / FILE)

By L.N. Harrison // Staff Writer

After hearing about I Saw the Light last month, there was a certain amount of curiosity and intrigue that followed. A biopic about country legend Hank Williams, as portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, a native of England?

At this point, audiences have seen Tom Hiddleston play a Norse god, a WWI-era military man, a vampire, and an American literary legend, but this role is in a category all its own. For that reason and despite Hiddleston’s talent, there was a bit of skepticism on my part.

Though not a fan of country music, perhaps to some extent this skepticism is born of being a Southerner who has always been surrounded by the Southern drawls and twangs, the music, and everything that Nashville embodies.

Thankfully, however, curiosity won.

With such a cast as Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Cherry Jones (24) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), there was certainly no lack of talent and this talent is what truly drove the film.

There are some beautifully moving and even humorous scenes (perhaps one the best of the latter involves a drunk Williams and a garage door opener) that, as well-written as they are, with the wrong casting likely would have fallen flat. Yet, the exchanges between characters – and sometimes the moments in absence of other characters – are so believable. In these moments, the tension between characters is almost palpable, the attraction is electric, and the sadness is heartbreaking. The cast as a whole delivered far beyond expectations.

As for Hiddleston, specifically as he was my major concern of the cast, his performance as Hank Williams was nothing short of incredible.

Though hints of his British pronunciation showed through in a few instances, overall, he did a marvelous job of capturing the Southern accent without playing it up to the point of caricature as so many films do when someone not from the South takes on one of the various Southern dialects. What’s more, Hiddleston’s singing was spot-on, right down to the distinctive yodel that Williams used. 

But what he truly brought to this film and to the character, as he has to all the other films I’ve seen him in, is a type of sincerity and earnestness that made the mercurial and rollercoastering Williams someone who I wanted to see turn it all around and succeed, even though I already had a rough idea of how his life – and, subsequently, the film – would end. I don’t think there are many other actors who could have done that so seemingly effortlessly as Hiddleston does.

Whereas some biopics have a tendency toward being long-winded or focusing too much on certain aspects and making the narrative drag, this film didn’t have that problem. Though it does leisurely amble along on the rocky and winding road of Williams’ prolific but short time in the spotlight, the narrative is fairly well-paced and the script is well-written, and combined with the acting itself, I honestly forgot about the two hour runtime and got pulled into the story instead.

So far as biopics themselves go, it’s not Ray — the film about Ray Charles’ life, starring Jamie Foxx in the title role but then it doesn’t pretend to be and it can’t be if it is to remain true to the subject of it. Perhaps what would best mark this as a truly good biopic is that, though not a country music fan and not a fan or even being very knowledgeable about Hank Williams, by the time the credits rolled, I felt as if I had learned something and it made me want to learn more.

Not even taking the R-rating into account, the film isn’t for everyone. People who feel more at home with explosions, zombies, or gunfights probably won’t get much out of it. For what it is, however, I Saw the Light is a well-done movie with some exceptional talent and quite a few poignant moments. 

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To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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