There are characters that are born to be immortalized on celluloid, well now it’s a hard drive. But the idea is that they are figures so unique that they seem destined to be captured by the lens. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021) does just that, in its almost two hours it only delves into the life of the English artist Louis Wain. It was his peculiar paintings of cats that earned him social recognition and redirected his artistic career. With the characteristic chronicle of the biographical genre, the director Will Sharpe tells us a drama centered on the study of his central character, more from a personal level than from the artist’s point of view.
England at the end of the 19th century provides the background for the start of this unusual adventure. Only a few minutes have passed, and we are already fully in the chaotic world of Louis Wain, disheveled and with a frenetic pace we run into him on a crowded train while trying to complete some drawings. A drop of blood appears from his nose, and we soon understand that this is the result of his boxing classes. So scattered was Wain’s life and so scattered were his thoughts. In this framework and with a lot of family, economic and professional situations, the man, and the artist that the world knew was impregnated.
An electric man
The versatile Benedict Cumberbatch embodies Wain in a performance that demands him on multiple levels. First, there is the physical plane and the demands of body language and secondly the range of emotions and the turbulent mind of the artist. Cumberbatch must move at a pace that lets us see the unstable man and always on the edge without ridiculing the figure, while in equal measure he must guarantee that the audience recognizes his brilliant mind full of darkness, but also of a lot of light.
The counterweight is made by Claire Foy with her portrayal of Emily Richardson, entering the scene as a romantic interest figure it could be easy for Wain’s strength to outshine her, but her character remains up to the task and brings greater coherence to the story. The combination of both leads the film to romantic drama, but this is only a bait to enter darker paths when tragedy makes its entrance.
Erik Wilson’s cinematography (Submarine, Tyrannosaur) is executed to perfection, the pacing, tones, and selection of angles vary according to Wain’s highs and lows. The visual universe corresponds to the artist’s work, but also to his internal disturbances. We can still have a sequence full of color and with a hopeful impulse, like a gloomy fragment that pushes us to sadness. Without a doubt, it is in the visual aspect and in the characterization of its central characters where The Electrical Life of Louis Wain shows its highest notes. The script by Simon Stephenson (Paddington 2, Luce) and in which the director himself collaborates, is somewhat anecdotal and at times flat. The film flows smoothly with good realization and loaded with good acting.