The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021). Film review of the drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021) Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review by Jason Day of The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, the period drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular eccentric, Victorian artist. Co-starring Claire Foy.

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English artist Louis Wain looks back on his life, as he achieved enormous success at the end of the Victoria era famed for his illustrations of cats, as well as his doomed romance with Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), the governess of his younger sisters.

Watching and criticising all of this is the eldest of the sisters Caroline (Andrea Riseborough) who worries about her marriage prospects and those of her siblings because of her brother’s romantic and artistic profligacy.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Got to admit, I am more of a ‘dog man’ and I don’t usually ‘go for’ movies with ridiculously extended titles like the one we have here; I tend to think the more words added to a film title are trying to mask a lack of cinematic quality. But perhaps with this film, I am wrong.

For a start, we have something I definitely approve of – the sarcastic, omnipotent, Thackery-esque narrator in Olivia Colman who sets the scene and keep us updated. From the start, during a funeral procession, she tells us that the weather is shit. It sets the scene for a period drama that never wants to be your conventional period drama, and she punctuates the film at various moments with peppery, profanity-strewn words. It’s one of the movie’s undisputed delights.

The other one is the eclectic choice of performers. I am always partial to a bit of Andrea Riseborough, having been an admirer since I first saw her astonishingly frank performance in Channel 4’s brilliant English Civil War drama The Devil’s Whore (2008). It’s wonderful to see how much ground she has traversed since then by following her career, playing everyone from Wallis Simpson to Tom Cruise’s intriguingly mysterious ‘bit’ in the sci-fi offering Oblivion (2013).

In TDW she played a virgin who has a surprisingly intense orgasm on her wedding night. Here, she plays a woman whom circumstance has imperiled to be a spinster. She’s perfectly caustic and wound up as the unofficial head of the Wain house, due to her brother’s preoccupations.

It’s 10 years since Cumberbatch and Foy first starred in a movie, Wreckers, in which they also played a married couple. They’re such a perfect screen pairing, it’s only to be hoped we see them together again very soon.

To explain, I have written before about getting my hopes up or having them dashed by movie trailers (or my preconceived notions of what they will be like based on word of mouth) and The Electrical Life of…is one of the movies whose promo made me feel the latter state.

It seemed like too much whimsy, too much silliness, too much…cattiness. This is a light piece of course, gossamer-thin but with streaks of gold thread, but the performers and dark tone keep the attention.

There are moving depths to the film, more moving than the trailer suggests. Even the hardest of hearts will be softened by a tragic tale of how the Victorian era’s strict social conventions and lack of understanding of mental health and compassion toward others could so severely impact an artistic genius and his nearest and dearest.

I wasn’t acquainted with Wain’s prolific artistic output before but, after seeing just a selection of his proliferate oeuvre – even for a dog lover – there a plenty of choice pics you’d be happy to have framed in your loving room.

All this and a few cats too; and I didn’t even mind that.

Cast & credits

Director: Will Sharpe. 1hr 51 min/111 min. Amazon Studios/Film 4/Shoebox. Films/StudioCanal/SunnyMarch. (12A).

Producers: Adam Ackland, Ed Clarker, Leah Clarke, Guy Heeley.
Writers: Simon Stephenson, Will Sharpe.
Camera: Erik Wilson.
Music: Arthur Sharpe.
Sets: Suzy Davies.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Sharon Rooney, Aimee Lou Wood, Hayley Squires, Stacy Martin, Phoebe Nicholls, Adeel Akhtar, Asim Chaudhry, Taika Waititi, Crystal Clarke.


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