Biography Drama

TIFF Review: ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ is a Fascinating Look at the Life of an Eccentric and Troubled Artist

October 20, 2021Ben MK

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But back in the 19th century, you'd be hard-pressed to find any individual who found as much to admire in cats as Louis Wain. Of course, nowadays, our furry feline companions are in many ways just as highly regarded as their brethren of the canine variety — something that might not necessarily be the case were it not for Louis and the many eclectic paintings, portraits and drawings of cats that he produced over the course of his prolific artistic career.

The son of a widowed mother and a brother to six sisters, Louis (Benedict Cumberbatch) is no stranger to having to provide for his family. Yet, despite trying his hand at various professions — from being an art teacher and a musician to a polyhobbyist and an inventor — it's his inability to commit himself to any one endeavor that is arguably his biggest character flaw. Notoriously single and prone to bouts of depression and crippling anxiety, Louis finds his life taking a different turn when he meets a governess named Emlly Richardson (Claire Foy) and lands a job as a staff illustrator for the top newspaper in London. However, when the couple's unconventional relationship encounters an unexpected challenge, it's Louis' friendship with his cat Peter that inspires him to channel his emotions into his artwork, captivating the hearts of people around the world in the process.

A charming, quirky and sometimes melancholy affair spanning the years 1881 to 1925, director Will Sharpe's biopic also delves into Louis' fascination with the metaphysical properties of electricity (hence the film's title). For the most part, however, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is really just the story of an eccentric and troubled artist. And though it may not have too much to say about Wain's legacy, it's still a fascinating look at the man himself that also serves as a poignant reminder about the devastating effects of mental illness.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain screened under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and is in select theaters October 22nd. Its runtime is 1 hr. 51 min.

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