Benedict Cumberbatch stars in scene from the movie “The Current War: Director’s Cut.” (CNS photo/101 Studios)

NEW YORK (CNS) — It’s inventor Thomas Edison in one corner and industrialist George Westinghouse in the other in the intriguing historical drama “The Current War: Director’s Cut” (101 Studios).

Some of the language employed in this recounting of the bitter contest that saw the two titans racing to spread electricity across the United States in the last decades of the 19th century makes it inappropriate for kids. But its educational value may convince many parents that it’s suitable for mature teens.


Benedict Cumberbatch plays Edison. Already a popular idol for his many previous breakthroughs, he’s determined to replace the gas lamp with the lightbulb and believes Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) is merely stealing his ideas. Yet Westinghouse is championing alternating current, a far more efficient means of conveying electricity across long distances than Edison’s direct current.

Caught between the rival sides is eccentric Serbian-American tech whiz Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult). A brilliant misfit, Tesla works briefly for Edison before setting out on his own and eventually allying himself with Westinghouse. Edison, for his part, has the significant support of banker J.P. Morgan (Matthew Macfadyen) and the devoted service of his young secretary, Samuel Insull (Tom Holland).

Along with the paradox of a genius who is stubbornly in the wrong on one point, Edison, as portrayed here, presents the spectacle of an upright person driven to do what he knows is wrong.

Early scenes have him turning down a lucrative deal to develop munitions for the military on the grounds that he will not invent devices to kill people. Yet his determination to prove to the public that AC is dangerous — something he himself doesn’t really believe — later prompts him to participate in the design of the electric chair, provided it will be powered by a Westinghouse generator.

Edison, moreover, although deeply bound to his wife, Mary (Tuppence Middleton), and their two children, is so preoccupied by his work that he tends to neglect them. Westinghouse is more attentive to his clever spouse, Marguerite (Katherine Waterston).

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film does occasionally drag. But, overall, the high stakes, a sophisticated exploration of moral themes, the colorful period settings and impressive performances, especially from Cumberbatch, make this an appealing retrospective.

The film contains brief gore, a few profanities, several mild oaths and a crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.