Dramatising science and technology: can it be done?

This week, IP Draughts has been to two performances that tried, with some success, to entertain us with true stories about the development of technology.

The first of these was a trip to see the film, The Current War. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, it dramatises the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over the development of electricity networks in the USA. Specifically, it focusses on Edison’s advocacy of direct current systems versus Westinghouse’s espousal of alternating current. Tesla has a supporting role. JP Morgan appears periodically with his chequebook. Claims of patent ownership and infringement feature at various points.

Readers with long memories will recall IP Draughts’ disappointment with the film, The Descendants, in which George Clooney played a conveyancing lawyer and grappled with the rule against perpetuities. The Draughtatrix seemed to enjoy that one. This time, she cracked first, commenting during the film  that she didn’t care what happened next.

Nor did IP Draughts by that point. The problem was the script. IP Draughts has read several books about Edison and Tesla, and feels there is a great film to be made about their rivalry. But this wasn’t it.

IP Draughts is now on his annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival, and last night saw a Fringe show, Harriet Braine, Les Admirables. It was partly about famous women scientists and inventors. She chose Hedy Lamar and Ada Lovelace, among others, to illustrate her theme. Like the caption from the Punch cartoon, it was good in parts, and IP Draughts is glad he saw it, but it needed more editing and focus.

It seems that turning science history into high-quality entertainment is hard.

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