Thursday, 12 December 2019

‘Lightbulb moment’ sparked fierce fight

‘Lightbulb moment’ sparked fierce fight

WHENEVER friends or family have a baby, it is hard not to marvel at the world of technological wonders they have been born into.

The new arrival will grow up in an environment where the internet, smartphones, WiFi and Bluetooth are part of the air they breathe.

As a child of the early Seventies, I likewise took colour television for granted, even though it had only just become widespread and black and white sets were still commonplace.

Electric lighting was likewise part of the furniture — as it had been for nearly a century.

Now a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison — the inventor of the electric lightbulb — is set to chronicle the race to light up America and the world in the late 19th century.

Originally due to have been released in November 2017, The Current War was postponed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and has since been re-edited by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

This saw him add new scenes while cutting the overall length — meaning the film released this week is a somewhat different animal to the one first shown at the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago.

The film is set in 1879, when Edison was on the verge of bringing electricity to Manhattan with his radical new direct current technology.

But on the eve of triumph his plans are upended by his fellow engineer and entrepreneur, George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), who believes that he and his partner, the upstart genius Nikolai Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) have a superior idea for how to rapidly electrify America — using alternating current.

As Edison and Westinghouse grapple for supremacy, they spark one of the first and greatest corporate feuds in American history — one that established for future titans of industry the need to be willing to break all the rules in pursuit of victory.

Edison famously said of his rival: “Just as certain as death, Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size. He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it working practically.”

Westinghouse later tried to defuse the situation in a letter to Edison, writing: “I believe there has been a systemic attempt on the part of some people to do a great deal of mischief and create as great a difference as possible between the Edison Company and the Westinghouse Electric Co., when there ought to be an entirely different condition of affairs.”

The Current War is showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse cinema from today (Friday).

Matthew Wilson

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