The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever. Moving from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, we follow the incredible adventures of this inspiring, unsung hero, as he seeks to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world and, in so doing, to better understand his own life and the profound love he shared with his wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy).
Wain was best known for his drawings, which consistently featured anthropomorphized large-eyed cats and kittens. Later in life, he was confined to mental institutions and was alleged to have suffered from schizophrenia. This claim is disputed among specialists. According to some psychiatrists, the onset of schizophrenia can be seen in his works.
Cumberbatch portrays an illustrator who is lonely, until he meets Emily, who is hired to be the governess for his five sisters. His father has died, his mother is ailing, and he is thisclose to poor. He is looking for work; his sometimes boss at the local newspaper views his behavior as imbecilic and once told him that he had “niggly peculiar foibles.” He can’t really afford a governess, but his sisters need structured learning and discipline. Emily, played by Claire Foy, is smitten with Louis, as he is with her. It is sort of like an electricity that briefly flows through the couple at dinner, and next comes the wedding.
His choice of wife is scrutinized by his family but more importantly the townspeople, because he has basically married the help. But this doesn’t bother Wain, and he seems to thrive after he’s married and the couple find a stray cat. That is when all the magic begins. But the happiness is short lived, as Emily is diagnosed with breast cancer. But even in her death, while Wain attempts to keep their electrical connection, his work becomes more exaggerated and valuable. His pain and loss manifest themselves as a fuel to keep him going—and even better and with even more cats in tow.
I look at “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” as a look at a man who some may have thought was suffering from schizophrenia in the end as a joyous look into a man who was obsessed with drawing, and his obsession just happened to center on cats.
I am not saying that it wasn’t a sad look into Wain’s life—because the ending will tear you up. But it was a delightful adventure—complemented by beautiful landscapes—into the mind of a man who saw the world differently, and thereby historically positioned cats for a purrfectly fine better world view. Up until then, cats were considered just useful for snatching and devouring rats. And, again, as in many other movie roles in which Cumberbatch has played, he is magnificent in this role.
From Amazon Studios, “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” is in theatres on October 22; notably at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, Addison 21 and others. It streams on Amazon Prime Video on November 5.