The Electrical Life of Louis Wain review: Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy in 'wonderfully peculiar' biopic

By Lewis Knight

Often the best biopics are ones that strive away from the conventional.

Directed by the multi-talented Will Sharpe, The Electric Life of Louis Wain is certainly not one of this genre that sticks to the formula.

Following the death of his father, the eccentric Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes the primary provider and head of his family consisting of a group of sisters and his elderly mother.

As he pursues numerous careers among his diverse interests, Louis hires the often unconventional governess Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) to teach his sisters whilst he pursues a career as an illustrator.

Eventually, a spark between the two prompts a sweet romance to form, setting Louis on a course of hardship, humour, tragedy and quietly revolutionary artistry that sees him turn his fascination with cats into a worldwide movement.

Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch star in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (StudioCanal UK)
Cumberbatch plays the eccentric artist Louis Wain who had a fascination with cats (StudioCanal UK)

Vitally, despite often being most celebrated for his portrayal of ‘misfit’ characters, Cumberbatch is not tiresome or cliche in his turn as the child-like, unpredictable and occasionally rather hopeless Louis, offering an examination of an artist who is often the victim of his own comedy of errors.

Cumberbatch is wonderfully complemented by Foy who never ceases to amaze with her almost sorceress-like ability to emanate powerful human emotions from her eyes - delivering wonderful comedic moments but also some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film.

In fact, the entire cast is full to the brim with talented supporting turns, from the likes of Toby Jones as Wain’s compassionate regular employer to the ever-excellent Andrea Riseborough as Louis’ tightly-wound but responsible sister Caroline - who also produces many laughs of her own.

Foy portrays an unconventional governess named Emily Richardson who is drawn to Wain (StudioCanal UK)

Throughout, the film also wisely follows the likes of The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) by taking a Victorian comedy-drama and presenting a diverse cast of comedic actors that embraces modern sensibilities, making it feel all the fresher.

Yet it is Sharpe’s direction and script that offer the biggest surprises in style, combing the likes of a delightfully chatty and anachronistic narration from Olivia Colman, period-accurate costuming, gorgeous cinematography from Erik Wilson vividly turning into painterly-like compositions, subtitles for cats (yes, really), and the melancholic yet almost alien-like score from Arthur Sharpe.

The film's style mimics its unique subject with colour, wit and tragedy (StudioCanal UK)

The passion for Wain’s work and his love of cats is truly evident in the script from Simon Stephenson and Will Sharpe, capturing the unique vision of Wain and his equally unique family but also the artist’s tragedy and unfulfilled potential too without lingering too long in the misery.

Ultimately, The Electric Life of Louis Wain is a charming triumph that will prove to be a true crowd-pleaser.

Verdict

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a wonderfully peculiar biopic that will make you cry and laugh in equal measure with a perfectly cast ensemble of players - including Benedict Cumberbatch at his most likeable.

*The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is released in UK cinemas in early 2022 and premiered at Toronto International Film Festival 2021.

What is your favourite biographical film? Let us know in the comments below.


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