The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
In this quirky biopic, director Will Sharpe offers a bittersweet tribute to artist Louis Wain. Benedict Cumberbatch fills the role of the gifted and eccentric British illustrator, best known for his imaginative cat drawings.
Wain is remembered for being wholly absorbed in his creative pursuits, which ranged from producing illustrations with incredible speed and skill, to composing operas of dubious quality. He was fascinated by the electric charge that powers everything in life, and tried to give concrete form to the idea that electricity travels through every living being to generate thoughts, events, memories and art itself.
The action begins in the late 19th century when, upon the passing of Wain senior, Louis finds himself the head of his family of five sisters and an ailing mother. Unfortunately, he does not possess the qualities nor the inclination to fill this position adequately, thus sparking his sisters’ disapproval. Things get worse when Louis embarks on a relationship, in spite of his social awkwardness, with the family governess, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy). Their union becomes a local scandal due to the disparity in their social status. Meanwhile, Louis develops a new interest in drawing anthropomorphised cats. These illustrations become unexpectedly popular and he starts to gain recognition and exposure. Although all the ingredients for a fulfilling life are within his reach, the course of his destiny places considerable obstacles in his way.
A heartfelt portrayal of a fascinating man, Sharpe’s feature stands out for its fairytale feel, as well as for its warmth, enthusiasm and visual appeal. Unfortunately, its depiction of the Victorian era feels contrived and too much like an idealised replica of that time. The action remains stuck in the fictional realm as it often has a caricature quality to it, so the story is never really transporting. Although the film feels cluttered and is often unconvincing, Cumberbatch does not disappoint and brings Wain and his quirks to life with heartwarming candour. Shot in a 4:3 ratio and filled with picturesque scenes and plenty of vibrant colour, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain does full aesthetic justice to the artist. Perhaps it fails to tell his story compellingly, but it gives a clear idea of Wain’s extraordinary spirit.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is released on Amazon Prime Video in January 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Electrical Life of Louis Wain here: