The story of the iconic, tormented singer-songwriter Hank Williams who revolutionized country music with his raw charisma, haunting voice and original songs.
Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) emerged from the local Alabama music scene after World War II. Wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) was desperate to sing by his side despite being of lesser talent, which fueled an extremely turbulent home life. But Williams’ ability to write songs covering a wide range of emotions, using his own personal troubles as inspiration, became the essence of country music. In the end, he realized his dreams: hit records, a place on Nashville’s prestigious stage and radio show the Grand Ole Opry and even guest spots on the then-new medium of TV.
Refusing to hide his long-time alcoholism and dependency on painkillers behind the wholesome facade Nashville and the Opry expect of its stars, Hank remained prolific and immensely popular until the very end of his life. Like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, Hank’s star burned brightly, but briefly over the six years before he died on New Year’s Day of 1953. He was 29.
“Hank was in some ways probably the first rock star. It’s hard to question that,” says Marc Abraham, I SAW THE LIGHT’S writer and director. “I’m not sure how many people truly understand how influential (he was). Certainly Dylan understands it. Springsteen understands it. Neil Young understands it.
“Hank William’s life was not only extraordinary even in terms of what a young man goes through in a brief time, but he was a brilliant artist who not only changed contemporary music, but had an impact on literature. Men in the 1940’s weren’t singing songs like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Bing Crosby wasn’t talking about crying.”
Abraham fully recognized Hank’s tragic side, fraught with demons and the substance abuse that prematurely ended his life at age 29. Other music giants, he adds, suffered similar fates. “Hank crashed before (doomed jazzman) Charlie Parker. There were some old blues guys (who died similarly), but not somebody at the lofty peak Hank was at, no one in that spot had gone down with that kind of ferocity.”
He embraced this project with both the skills of a respected filmmaker and the passion of a lifelong country fan.