We are already used to seeing British actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the roles of eccentric characters, and in the same tone he continues in this fluttering biographical drama written and directed by British actor, director and screenwriter of Japanese descent Will Sharpe (twisted series Flowers and Landscapers). Cumberbatch is this time British eccentric and artist Louis Wain who became famous in the late 19th century for surreal paintings of cats. The plot of this film has been going on since the second half of the 19th century, when illustrator and inventor Wain became the head of the family after his father’s death and had to take care of his five sisters and grandmother until the 1930s. It’s a British middle-class family, and this weirdo’s life will change completely when they hire governess Emily (Claire Foy) as his sisters ’home teacher.
Not only will Emily become the love of his life, but she will encourage him to dedicate himself to painting. The key moment will be when they adopt a cat and soon cats will become the main theme of Wain’s paintings that will popularize cats as pets in general because in Victorian times it wasn’t exactly typical for people to keep them in houses and dogs were far more popular. Perhaps most accurately, Waina could be described as a sensitive weirdo who could not fit into society, and through somewhat daguerreotype flashbacks we will occasionally gain insight into his traumatic childhood that certainly shaped him.
Although Wain’s life, judging by this film, was anything but fairytale-like, Sharpe filmed “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” in a somewhat Impressionist style. Everything here is colorful, full of colors, fluttery, at times the photo really looks like it jumped out of some impressionist or post-impressionist painting from that period. It is as if in this way the viewer is drawn into his state of consciousness and sees the world the way he saw it.
After a series of life tragedies, Wain seems to have slipped more and more into his own world and spent the last decades of his life in institutions for the mentally ill, but despite all this, the whole film is presented in a fluttering tone and what often happens in his life it is completely at odds with the way it is narrated. From a young age, he faced problems and pressures and became the only one who earned something for a family that seemed to be a real liquid. And when he managed to achieve fame and earn something, very quickly he squandered it thanks to bad judgments and simply an inability to figure out what and how to do with money.
The narrator of the story is Olivia Colman (who starred in Sharp’s Flowers and Landscapers) and she puts us in the context of a time when Wain and I travel too much into the world of eccentricity and explains how much this guy didn’t fit into that stiff, hypocritical and conservative society. But despite all these social prejudices, Victorian England was at once a land of innovation and scientific discovery, so Wain was also extremely interested in electricity. However, he saw electricity in a completely different way, as a force that pushes us forward and called it the key to all the secrets of life, and thanks to these ideas he painted cats and his paintings became more psychedelic and surreal over time, just as was obviously the case with his mind.