FlixChatter Review: The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain (2021)

tcff reviews

Benedict Cumberbatch has built his career on quirky roles, and he once again plays an eccentric genius. This time it’s an English artist Louis Wain whose surreal cat paintings, um, catapulted his career at the end of the 19th century. Now, I never thought there was a time when cats weren’t household pets, well apparently part of Wain’s legacy was change the image of cats as distrustful creatures into something cute and cuddly.

Louis’ life however, isn’t quite warm and fuzzy. As the first of six children and the only boy, Wain ends ups supporting all his sisters and his mother following his father’s death. So undoubtedly Wain has a peculiar upbringing and he seems to be willing to put up with a lot, especially the constant berating from the eldest of his five sisters Caroline (Andrea Riseborough). But his spirits perk up upon meeting Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), a governess his family hired for his younger sisters. The romance is frowned upon by the family, particularly Caroline, as Emily is 10 years his senior. But despite their objections, the two are quickly married and moved to Hampstead. It’s there that his love for cats blossomed after they adopted a stray kitten they named Peter.

electrical-life-louis-wain-benedict-cumberbatch

There seems to be no shortage of amazingly-gifted artists with tragic lives, and Louis faces tragedy in both love and career despite reaching a certain degree of fame and notoriety. He didn’t get to live a long married life with the love of his life due to cancer, which made him even more prolific with his cat drawings during Emily’s illness. At one point she woke up to a room literally filled with cat paintings Louis had drawn. The relationship between Louis and Emily is quite sweet, and Foy has such a lovely presence on screen, so it’s too bad her screen time is pretty limited here.

electrical-life-louis-wain-foy-cumberbatch

In terms of career, one can’t help but see the similarities between Louis and Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant inventors with the brightest minds who somehow didn’t have the business smarts and faced poverty during his lifetime. Louis confessed to his sisters that he didn’t sign copyright of his work, which caused him to constantly face financial difficulties. For a while Louis was employed at Illustrated London News by its owner, Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), who became a close friend, but he became sort of a freelance artist throughout his career.

electrical-life-louis-wain-benedict-toby

As a narrative feature, director Will Sharpe (show-runner of the Flowers UK series) is a curious one with a rather bizarre directorial choices that feels experimental and at times psychedelic and overly sentimental. It also uses a narration by Olivia Colman, which feels like a crutch to help us understand what’s going on at certain points of Louis’ life. As the title suggest, there’s also Louis’ pre-occupation with electricity, which I find quite amusing given Cumberbatch played Thomas Edison in The Current War in 2017. Some of his electric-cat drawings reflects this period, shifting from the more anthropomorphic style where the cats are drawn behaving like humans. 

electrical-life-louis-wain-anamorphic-cats

The depiction of schizophrenia that plagued Wain’s family is at times too manic or too whimsical. Starting with one of his sisters who ended up in a mental hospital, Louis too, suffered from that chronic brain disorder, depicted vividly in the film where he imagines himself drowning and screaming for help from his father. Perhaps the frenzied style is meant to showcase Louis’ mental state, which also tends to succumb to sorrowful mood. Speaking of drowning, I feel like the film often drowns in sadness. The moment Louis lost Peter, the cat he and Emily adopted, Louis is absolutely crestfallen that he sobs for a long period of time as he’s lying on the floor. Then in his later years when Louis is in his 70s living in a mental institution, the gray-haired, weary-faced artist is visited by an old friend whom he first met on a train decades prior. He laments about the harsh life in the psychiatric hospital and how he misses his cats.

The performances are as uneven as the film itself. The usually terrific Andrea Riseborough delivers a strange one-note performance that’s almost grating as she’s screaming all the time, usually directed at poor Louis. Claire Foy has a nice chemistry with Cumberbatch and she has kind of a wide-eyed curiosity as his love interest. I enjoy seeing character actor Adeel Akhtar in a prominent role as Mr. Rider, one of Wain’s biggest allies who helps him secure a more pleasant place to call home, complete with a garden and plenty of cats. As for the two famous cameos, well Taika Waititi’s appearance is largely unmemorable, while Nick Cave’s H.G. Wells is also a blink-and-you-missed it moment.

As for Cumberbatch, though he’s played too many similar characters in his career, he’s still quite good in the role. In fact, he’s competent enough to rise above the uneven direction and still makes a compelling portrait of a true artist that you can’t help root for. I’m glad I got to know a bit about Louis Wain and his work/legacy. The biopic isn’t quite um, electric as it wishes to be, but there’s enough going for this to warrant a recommendation.

3/5 stars


What did YOU think of The Electrical Life of Louise Wain?

Highlights from TCFF 2017 Opening Night… BREATHE, THE FLORIDA PROJECT & THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

It’s that time of the year again folks! Yep, it’s the time when I basically made Showplace ICON at the West End as my second home for the next eleven days. And for the eighth year in a row, Twin Cities Film Fest always opens up with a bang! This year we’ve got such a strong line up that there are not one, not two, but three strong films playing on opening night… Breathe, The Florida Project and The Year of Spectacular Men.

I saw Breathe and The Year of Spectacular Men practically back to back, but before I get to the films, I also got to interview talents (one of the major perks of a blogger’s life!), and even better if the talents are your friends!

I haven’t got a chance to transcribe the interview just yet (I got home around 11:30 and had to work the next day), but for sure it’ll be posted in the next few days. Congrats Jack & Kitty! How awesome that director Sean Baker himself picked the four songs they wrote to be in The Florida Project! Stay tuned on how that came about in the interview!

I wish I could be at two places at the same time! I was hoping I could do the red carpet interview w/ Lea Thompson and her two daughters, Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, but I was still in the theatre for Breathe. Thankfully, my guest blogger Andy Ellis was able to do it… so hopefully we’ll get the interview in the next few days.


Films based on a true story is a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but once in a while comes along one that truly tugs your heart strings. Breathe is Andy Serkis‘ directorial debut, who’s best known for his mo-cap work for Lord of the Rings and the ‘Apes’ films. Featuring two extremely talented performers, Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, this film not only inspires but also sweeps you off your feet with its beauty. Beauty in terms of the visuals of the English countryside and Kenyan landscape, but also the beauty of the human heart.

Garfield portrays Robin, a man stricken by polio at the age of 28, which left him paralyzed. But with the help of his loyal wife Diana and his caring family and friends, Robin is able to not only survive but truly live. The film perhaps feels decidedly old school and unabashedly sentimental at times, but I was engrossed throughout by the performances. It’s not all gloom and doom despite the protagonist’s grim prognosis, thanks some bits of humor peppered throughout. I enjoyed Tom Hollander‘s performance as well playing Diana’s twin brothers.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Garfield as another Oscar contender next year, it was such a genuinely moving performance given the confines of his physical limitations.


The Year of Spectacular Men

I remember chatting to Lea Thompson last year when she came to visit TCFF and how excited I was when she said she’s making her first film! Well here we are… it’s so cool that TCFF goers are the first ones to see this. It’s so new there’s not even a trailer yet!

Talk about #womeninfilm… not only did Lea directed this, it’s also a family project with her two daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch. Madelyn wrote, star and scored the film as well, and her husband Howard Deutch produced the film. The story is about a young girl struggling to navigate life after graduating from college. So it’s a Millennial movie, but the themes of ‘trying to find answers’ and ‘wanting real human connections’ are something we can all relate to no matter how old we are.

The script is brutally honest and not afraid to show the pain and absurdity of millennial dating life. The two sisters have an effortless chemistry together, and the the joy and pain of sisterhood is genuinely moving. I like the scene towards the end where the two sisters laid down on concrete in front of their apartment and yelled out things that have caused them pain. During the Q&A, Lea revealed that is her favorite scene to shoot.

Madelyn’s certainly a talented writer, and like their mother, both Madelyn and Zoey have good comic skills. It’s so inspiring to see a family come together and make art together, it’s fun seeing the three of them come up for Q&A after the film. What a great film to end a strong opening night… I love that TCFF continues to support and encourage women filmmakers!

Q&A following the screening


What’s in store for Day 2

Well I’ll be seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring another actress from Minnesota, Rachael Leigh Cook. It’s a Shakespeare adaptation set in modern-day Hollywood, where bold declarations, idiotic miscommunications and wandering amorous eyes feel right at home. That’ll be quite a contrast to the documentary A Human Flow which centers on the global refugee crisis – the greatest human displacement since World War II.

So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!