Actor Tom Hiddleston of “Crimson Peak” and the "Avenger" series of films will portray singer Hank Williams in the upcoming music biopic “I Saw the Light,” which opens on March 25.
Mr. Williams is often hailed as one of the greatest country singers of all time and is widely considered a music legend. He released such songs as “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hey Good Lookin’.”
Williams also wrote the songs he performed, which was an unusual approach then.
“Hank Williams Sr. is certainly one of those individuals who became a catalyst for everything that happened after him,” singer Dwight Yoakam told Country Music Television. “Everything that happened after Hank Williams is about Hank, you know? His influence on country music culture, it was absolutely different the day after than the day before Hank showed up, and it still is.”
Hiddleston does his own singing in the film, which also stars Bradley Whitford, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, and David Krumholtz.
The movie will be the latest in a long line of musical biopics, a genre that has been popular with hits like “Straight Outta Compton” and “What's Love Got To Do With It,” and has earned some of their stars Oscars, including a Best Actress Oscar for Sissy Spacek in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a Best Actor statue for F. Murray Abraham in “Amadeus,” and nominations for both Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix for "Walk the Line." (She won, but he didn't.)
Billboard writer Melinda Newman noted that 2015 in particular was a big year for both the music biopic and the music documentary. 2015’s “Compton” became one of the biggest success stories of the year and of the music biopic genre in general.
Their growing popularity might owe something to new film viewing options, Ms. Newman writes.
“The success of Netflix and other SVOD [subscription video on demand] outlets ... means independent music doc[umentarie]s with modest budgets can find a path to an audience and to profitability that doesn't require mainstream theatrical success," Scott Pascucci, who served as an executive producer on the documentary “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” and is CEO of Concord Bicycle Music, told Billboard.
Of course, not all music biopics are a hit. The past few years have also seen such box office underperformers as “Jimi: All Is By My Side” about Jimi Hendrix; “The Runaways,” about the band of the same name; and “Jersey Boys,” about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
What can help a music biopic win over critics and viewers?
“Musical biopics tend to fall down when we see the actors trying to replicate the characteristics the star they are playing is famous for,” wrote Michael Hann for Guardian. “If the focus is on what an artist did in the studio or on stage, we soon lose interest.... There has to be a backstory, something to lift the subject to mythic level.”
And it all comes down to the star performers, writes Sandie Angulo Chen of Moviefone: “When they're cast well and executed properly, biographical dramas about musicians are some of the best ‘based on real people’ films.”