English artist Louis Wain rises to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings that seemed to reflect his declining sanity.
Benedict Cumberbatch has been a busy man of late with 5 films out in the last 12 months, with his latest being a biopic of the famous Victorian artist Louis Wain. Louis Wain was an odd guy who was a bit too obsessed with cats, painting pictures of them in weird poses, settings and costumes, and ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ tells the story of how he became an artist and achieved a moderate degree of success and fame. Bucking the trend of recent biopics to focus in on a specific time period in the protagonists life, this movie covers Wain’s entire life from his early work as a portrait artist to his later life as he declined and struggled with mental illness (with some dodgy old age makeup added later on).
This is a movie that is more interesting than it could have been but still not interesting enough, at least from my perspective. Director Will Sharpe attempts to add some life to the story with a quirky approach, particularly at the outset, by trying to draw parallels with the development of electricity around the same time period (Cumberbatch actually played Thomas Edison in a biopic about this topic called ‘The Current War’). In the film, Wain describes how that feeling or sense of electricity powers his work and makes him work faster, more effectively and produce better paintings, but there’s always a sense that Sharpe is straining to make this comparison work.
I was most reminded of ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ whilst watching this, in that both take a quirky, unorthodox approach to telling a story set in Victorian Britain. They both also feature extensive cast lists which feature a lot of familiar faces from British TV popping up in small parts, which I did enjoy. In the case of ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’, it only really connected with me fully when centering on the relationship between Wain and the woman he hires to educate his siblings (Claire Foy). This part packs a real emotional punch that I wasn’t quite expecting, and whilst it may have been more conventional than the rest of the movie, I enjoyed it more than the opening and final acts that never quite reached that level again.
‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ is a fitfully interesting biopic with some fun performances from a good cast, but for much of the runtime I didn’t find myself overly engaged with the story.
Directed By: Will Sharpe
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Jamie Demetriou, Aimee Lou Wood, Hayley Squires, Stacy Martin, Indica Watson, Julian Barratt, Sharon Rooney, Adeel Akhtar, Asim Chaudhry, Sophia Di Martino, Olivier Richters, Olivia Colman, Nick Cave, Taika Waititi and Richard Ayoade