Having played Hank Williams in the MGM production of Your Cheatin’ Heart in 1964, I asked Hamilton that night about the buzz related to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the Alabama Legend in the now-released biopic I Saw the Light. Hamilton was very complimentary to Hiddleston and said, “This will be a different film. Being an independent film, they will be able to show things that we were unable to show with a big studio.”
To the producer’s credit, the new Hank Williams film does not get as down and dirty as it could in retelling the life of this country music legend. During the opening credits, the immaculately dressed Hank Williams sings a signature tune, as if he were giving a concert from heaven.
The film flashes back to 1944 when Hank is married to Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) by a justice of the peace in a gas station on a rainy night. The next scene features him in a performance that is interrupted by a jealous husband, upset with Hank’s song lyrics. These two abutted scenes best describe the final nine years of Hank Williams’ rollercoaster life.
With the deaths of John Belushi, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse we’ve all witnessed the tragedy of talented artists slain by personal demons.
Hank Williams was no exception. Given his medical ailment (Spina bifida), professional demands (touring 11 months of the year) and shattered domestic life (Audrey’s singing ambition marred by a total lack of talent), a sensitive man like Williams was doomed to fail.
The saying goes, “country music is three chords and the truth.” British Actor Tom Hiddleston’s performance serves this country music principle. The womanizing charm and alcoholic despair is given a unique vulnerability by Hiddleston’s dignified performance. He is matched every step in the way by Olsen’s balanced performance as Audrey, who is part lover, part shrew.
George Hamilton’s You’re Cheatin’ Heart was produced with Audrey Williams’ supervision. I Saw the Light is based on the book, Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William (Bill) MacEwen in an effort to cite objective sources.
While Hank Williams III (the singer’s grandson) has denounced the film and Hiddleston’s performance, I Saw the Light provides a fine introduction to music that has stood the test of nearly seven decades.