I Saw the Light is a film that chronicles the turbulent story of Hank William’s short life. Based on the book, Hank Williams: The Biography, I Saw the Light is written and directed by Marc Abraham and is presented by Sony Pictures Classic. The film, which was chosen as an Official Selection of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, stars Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Maddie Hasson, and Wrenn Schmidt.
Hank Williams did not lead a happy life but many have said that he had revolutionized country music along the way, which makes for great drama. “When I decided to make a film about Hank’s life, I was intent on telling the story through the window of his relationships with powerful women, his physical pain and his most human flaws; to show the passion and always chaotic emotional life behind the curtain,” says director Marc Abraham in the movie’s press release. “I feel it’s only by exposing his inner turmoil that you can truly understand what drove his lyrics, music and explosive performances. The truth is, Hank William’s downfalls were his inspirations.”
“He was such an extraordinary man,” says Tom Hiddleston, who plays Hank. “In my mind, I always think of him like a firework, a firework that was burning brightly, made people gasp in awe, and gave people delight, but then blazed and burned out very fast.”
Hank Williams was born in Mt. Olive, Alabama, on September 17, 1923. He was the second son to Alonzo and Lillie Williams. He was born with Spina Bifida, which was a defect in his spinal cord. Seeing how he had a passion for music, Lillie bough Hank his first guitar in 1931 for $3.50. Just a teenager, he began performing occasionally on WSFA radio. Then, with the help of his mother, starting performing in roadhouses and bars, but he had already become a heavy drinker.
Hank Williams met single mother Audrey Sheppard Guy while on tour. They married in 1944 and created the band The Drifting Cowboys. Though she couldn’t sing, Audrey became part of the band.
“They’re two different people that have a hard time communicating and getting along, but they love each other deeply,” says Elizabeth Olsen who plays Audrey. “I think she supported his ambitions and she was in awe of him as well. And they were really young and then they were going through all these huge life changes, with success and what that means.”
As an up-and-coming star, Williams missed a number of bookings due to his continued drinking and in 1948, Audrey filed for divorce. The couple reconciled for a time when Hank joined a weekly radio broadcast for KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Audrey became pregnant and gave birth to Randall Hank Williams (aka Hank Williams, Jr.).
Williams finally made his Opry debut in 1949 with his version of the 1920 song, “Lovesick Blues.” After moving his small family to Nashville, Hank toured the nation performing a string of hits including “Mind Your Own Business,” “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” “Moanin’ The Blues,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” and “Hey, Good Lookin.’”
Despite the wholesome image that Opry demanded of its singers, Williams never hid his bad behavior of drinking or hooking up with various women across the states. Sometimes he performed drunk or not at all, if he was too sick. Audrey filed for divorce a second time in 1952. After missing a number of Opry-sponsored events, Williams was fired.
Traveling to a New Year’s Day concert in 1953, Williams died while sleeping in the back seat of his Cadillac that was being driven by a college student. The next day at the concert, the promoter announced Hank’s death, and his band sang, “I Saw The Light.”
The film, I Saw the Light, is by far a happy one. Still, Holly Williams, granddaughter of Hank Williams, loves the film. “I am so proud of this film of my granddaddy’s life. Director Marc Abraham, lead actor Tom Hiddleston and everyone involved with the film brought an incredible passion to their work, and a commitment to show Hank in all of his grit and glory and genius.”
I Saw the Light is currently playing in select theaters. It opens nationwide on April 1.
[Image via Sony Pictures Classic]