The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

For the most part, this biopic purrs and shocks you.

In “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” Benedict Cumberbatch plays Louis Wain, the artist best known for his animal drawings, most of which were big-eyes cats and kittens. He was also alleged to have suffered from schizophrenia, which eventually had him hospitalized.

The actor does an excellent job at portraying the artist in the ways he adapts to his aging and mental stability. The movie may not be as glorious as “The Power of the Dog,” which also stars Cumberbatch,” and comes out this November (mark your calendars), but it’s performances, colors, felines, and artwork make it rather enjoyable.

The movies in 1881, when Louis is looking for better opportunities for his paintings, including a new position from the newspaper editor Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones). It was probably his only chance at getting a job at this rate.

There’s the lovely new governess Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), who arrives to help raise his little sisters, while the eldest sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough) now becomes the matriarch of his home. She and Louis become romantically involved, which seems to make them the talk of the town, which seems to aggravate Caroline, because of how she was supposed to teach her sisters.

Despite the negative response, the two decide to marry. While his new wife has unfortunately developed breast cancer, they adopt a cute kitten, whom they name Peter. It all becomes clear to Louis that electricity is what pushes a man’s senses to the infinite possibilities, and that cat drawings are his true callings.

Eventually after he loses his wife, his cat drawings make him successful, but copyright issues clean him out. And it’s not just that, but also his well-being and his sisters begin to deteriorate.

“The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” isn’t always understandable or interesting when we escape from the artist’s mind, but it does capture his light with the right colors and images. It’s about what went on in Louis’ mind, and Cumberbatch makes it quite clear, as does the director Will Sharpe.

The leading man also has some unique supporting work from Foy, who radiates as the wife, who support his art and passion, and from Riseborough, who fires herself up as the cynical and hurried sister. And out of all the cameos from Taika Waititi to narrator Olivia Colman, the best comes from Adeel Adktar as a chap who asks Louis to draw Cleopatra. He doesn’t do humans, but correction, she’s his sister’s dog he’s watching. I’m told this movie was diverse in its casting for a period movie, but then again “The Personal History of David Copperfield” was one of the delights to engage us in that notion.

For the most part, “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” has an affection for art, electricity, and cats of all sorts. Trust me, Tom Hopper had nothing to do with them, and the scene when we see their eyes bigger than normal reminds me of Margaret Keane’s work, and how Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” introduced me to her. And seeing Cumberbatch in this particular role reminds me of his work in “The Imitation Game,” another worthy period piece, but about the cryptanalyst Alan Turing. The actor may not distinguish between his performances in commercial and artisan features, but he still shines a light with the periods of time, and the characters he resurrects, such as Louis Wain.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters

Streaming on Amazon Prime November 5

Categories: Biography, Drama, History

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