‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ tracks the distinct, challenging, and wonderful life of its titular British artist, played in the film by Benedict Cumberbatch. Wain was an eccentric individual with a vast range of interests, and rose to prominence in Victorian England for his paintings of cats, which delighted the world over. The primary breadwinner of a family which included his mother and five sisters, Louis Wain’s life truly begins to take shape after he hires Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) to be governess to his siblings.
It's not every day you come across such a character of a movie as ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’. The film really is as electrical as the title indicates. It is also quirky, ambitious, charming, and deeply moving. Its characters are thoroughly lovable, with Andrea Riseborough and Toby Jones giving admirable performances alongside Cumberbatch and Foy. It also can be very funny with all its oddities.
Cumberbatch is just wonderful as Louis Wain – between this and the recent ‘The Power of the Dog’, he’s really proven the assuredness and breadth of his talent of late. Wain is clumsy and an oddball – one man describes him as “ridiculous.” While he can lack empathy, his work ethic is undeniable and he cares deeply, even if he misapplies it at times.
There’s a frenetic energy to his character, which is reflected in the film’s pacing, as Wain goes from drawing to pursuing boxing to working on an opera in the span of a day. Foy’s governess also has this nervousness about her and a disarming vulnerability. Against a world where everyone else is “normal”, it’s easy to see how the two characters just click with one another.
There is a sadness too to the life of Louis Wain. We witness the character suffer great anxiety; later, a terminal diagnosis delivers a heavy blow. They’ve also managed to cast the most adorable kittens in the world in the movie, adding to these lovely backdrops which are distinguished by vibrant, colourful costumes and set designs. This is a brighter and more rainbow-like world than what you’d normally associate with Victorian England, and thus the production design and cinematography reflects Louis’ painterly imagination.
There are some beautiful uses of light in ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’, and it is a thoughtful contemplation of stress and grief. It is a visual feast and a compelling journey, a movie that takes risks and isn’t afraid to dive into darkness following ecstasy and joy. In this way, the movie title’s use of “electrical” is as relevant as the word “life”, for ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ reflects on the range of happy and sad moments and memories that personify an individual’s time on this earth.