The Electrical Life of Louis Wain streams on Amazon Prime Video on October 5th! Writer and director Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain leaves the viewer overdosed on whimsy. The Flowers creator has two excellent performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy that are practically used as a pair of crutches. The true story of a man who may have been responsible for a Western use of feline friends as pets frequently loses focus. Often like a cat distracted by someone playing with a laser pointer.
Cumberbatch plays Louis Wain, a renowned artist who had such extreme focus, it appeared he had trouble focusing at all. A man who refused to draw humans because they bored him. Fascinated by cats, he was made famous by his illustrations of anthropomorphic cats in the Illustrated London News. He became so popular that his drawings had often been used and copied for sale, the start of cat societies, and famous fans such as H.G. Wells.
Wain is also the sole supporter of his mother and five sisters after his father’s death. All the ages range from older than him to one that hasn’t started puberty. The oldest, Caroline (Mandy’s Andrea Riseborough), is afraid Louis is falling for the new caretaker of the house (First Man’s Claire Foye) and will take them away from him. He soon falls madly in love with her but still supports his family because his sisters remain unmarried.
Louis Wain lacks the necessary focus by constantly toggling back and forth between themes. That is not unusual with films, but to be successful, they just can’t be juggled but married somehow. There is a history of mental health issues that runs in the Wain family. In the film, schizophrenia is attributed to the young Wain sister, Claire (Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood). The film attempts to meld Wain’s artistic brilliance with personal tragedy but fails to investigate which came first.
Foye is particularly charming here, but it’s one of those roles that has become cliche used exclusively as a plot device. Cumberbatch is allowed a meatier role that expresses depression and uncontrolled mental health issues. The film takes a stance on Wain’s well-documented bouts with mental health that experts have disputed. Some claim you can see the psychotic disorder spectrum in his drawings. In contrast, others claim the paintings are not dated, which makes it impossible to tell (schizophrenia is unlikely to onset after 40). The story of incorporating mental health is mishandled and feels like an almost distasteful convenience.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is an overdose of whimsy that finds difficulty in juggling its heavy themes. That’s a shame. It’s an admirable attempt that would be better served with a singular focus rather than coated in fairytale principles.
Make sure to watch The Electrical Life of Louis Wain on Amazon Prime Video on November 5th and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!