The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Reviewed by Tami Smith, Film Reviewer for Shockya
Director: Will Sharpe
Screenwriters: Simon Stephenson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Toby Jones, Andrea Riseborogh, Aimee Lou Wood, Stacy Martin, Hayley Squires, Sharon Rooney, Olivia Colman
Release Date: October 22, 2021
The first time we are introduced to Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), he is traveling on a train after an agricultural country show in England. Louis is an eccentric and clumsy young man, who was attacked by “a bull without a sense of humor!” He is a failed art teacher, a failed musician, an aspiring inventor and a part-time illustrator who loves to draw cats. He suffers from anxieties and nightmares. Along comes governess Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), who understands Louis and his fears. He invites her to the theater for “the education of the girls” (his sisters), an adventure which ends with a coy conversation in the men’s room between the two, a neighbor remarks about Emily’s presence in the theater, which result in her dismissal due to “aspects of her behavior” that caused the Wain family to become “the talk of the town”. Some of Wain’s neighbors find the idea of social interaction between a “lady of the server class and a gentleman nothing short of revolting, causing one neighbor to vomit”.
The Victorians were a conservative society and tried to avoid a social scandal at all cost. Luis, however, was determined and in 1884 he asked Emily for her hand in marriage. She accepted and they relocated from London to Hampstead, while Louis was still financing his sisters’ household. What follows is a brief love story, lasting six months with the happy couple’s meeting and adopting Peter (Felix) a black-and-white cat. When Emily receives a terminal breast cancer diagnosis, her health spirals downwards resulting in death three years later. Meanwhile Louis’s cat art flourishes, causing him to become a household name in England. At that point the plot turns downward leading to Louis’ being diagnosed with schizophrenia resulting in institutionalization till his death in 1939.
Will Sharpe directed The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, focusing on Louis’ cat art with all its abstract eccentricity. Actors do not disappoint; Benedict Cumberbatch leading the way as Louis Wain, a man of many interests who excelled in illustration and had a fascination with electricity. Claire Foy makes the most of her short screen time as Emily Richardson, turning a cartoon image of prim and proper educator into fun-loving and humorously engaging person. Toby Jones plays Sir William Ingram, the editor of llustrated London News and Louis’ employer, giving his character a fatherly aura. Andrea Riseborogh, Aimee Lou Wood, Stacy Martin, Hayley Squires and Sharon Rooney provide supporting performances as Louis’ sisters residing in the chaotic Wain household. The plot is narrated by Olivia Colman in an even tone, describing the events, while using understated humor.
Director of photography Erik Wilson shows the rainbow flares of electricity passing through Wain’s mind while using prismatic lenses. Arthur Sharp provides sound and composition, using traditional orchestral equipment to capture that electricity. Costume designer Michael O’Connor designed garments that focus on the passing time always dressing Emily in different shades of blue. Make-up designer Vickie Lang gives Wain a credible prosthetic nose while showing the passage of time from the 1880’s through the late 1930’s. Production designer Suzie Davies seamlessly alternates between photography and drawings.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a wonderful edition to the holiday cinematic season suitable for the whole family.
111 minutes Rated: PG-13 © Tami Smith, Film Reviewer