The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 7, 2021 @

The best part of The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is the tour de force performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character.

Louis Wain was an actual person [1860-1919], who in the film was obsessed with the nature of electricity on human life. He got fame from his ground-breaking illustrations of cats and was catapulted to popularity by his unique talent. He lifted cats from the status of just being "ratters," and his voluminous drawings cast light on their having personalities.

Cumberbatch gives a multi-faceted portrayal of the man whose own life was a catastrophe. His Wain is a quixotic, faltering, alienated, peculiar fellow.

He is burdened with responsibilities. He has five sisters and a mother. He is the sole wage-earner for the dysfunctional family.

Louis falls in love with the governess Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) and marries her. Since he marries beneath his station, his sisters blame him for their spinsterhoods. The catty neighbors denigrate the family. One caterwauling sister Marie (Hayley Squires) eventually is institutionalized.

Louis and Emily find a kitten in the rain, and it becomes part of their family. It leads to his drawing cats. As Emily says to him about cats, they are "ridiculous, frightened, and brave. Like us."

His precious relationship with Emily is ill-fated, and he has to try to survive the loss. But the loss is shattering. His life is a catalogue of ills. Her loss is a catalyst into chaos.

At the end Louis is nearly catatonic, sitting with an acquaintance (Taika Waititi), who tells him why he thinks Emily wanted him to continue painting, because that brought him into special contact with others, even though he might not know them. It is a crucial viewpoint that revives Louis.

The direction by Will Sharpe is helter skelter. The narration by Olivia Colman adds clarity, which the editing and screenplay lack. The dialogue at times is too fast-paced, which decreases impact.

Will Sharpe's brother Arthur did the catchy musical score.

Several of the characters lack definition, but Sir William (Toby Jones) gives Louis part-time employment and needed support.

The film is teeming with sketchy characters and frustrations. It's a veritable catch-all.

But in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Benedict Cumberbatch is the cat's pajamas.

© 2000-2022 Tony Macklin