Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain, an eccentric biopic of an artist you never knew of, from Flowers director Will Sharpe. At the end of the 19th century, Louis Wain was a big name in painting, specifically of cats. Somewhat of a genius, he flitted between various pursuits – a boxer and a painter of animal portraits chief amongst them – in a quest to harness energy. An erratic family life left him the sole provider for his hoard of siblings, including Andrea Riseborough’s harsh Caroline, a constant critic of his life and interests.
When a nanny (Emily, an excellent Claire Foy) appears on the scene to help the education of the children, he is smitten. Equally quirky, she sees the world differently and becomes a loving anchor to Wain’s waywardness. Wain was a tortured soul, drawing anthropomorphic pictures of cats to still his busy mind, easing his troubles as tragedy looms. His work is celebrated, but he makes little money as he fails to copyright his images; given financial help via kindly benefactors like Toby Jones’ Sir William Ingram, his family nonetheless faces penury and his mental state declines.
Director and co-writer Sharpe populates his film with a host of cameos from the comedy world. Taika Waititi, Julian Barratt, Richard Ayoade, Adeel Akhtar and even Nick Cave make appearances, along with a voiceover by Olivia Colman. What emerges, however, is a bit of a mishmash of a film – well played by Cumberbatch and Foy, but losing its way at times. There is a deeply moving simple scene held in one static shot between Foy and Cumberbatch as they face up to tragedy, that bests Sharpe’s sometimes-overdone quirks.
Cumberbatch crumbles well and there are transcendent and often very funny moments but the film remains scattershot, leaping years towards the end of Wain’s life when matters become darker and his mental illness becomes truly debilitating. Funny, sweet and tender, the film meanders but ends on a note of joy. An eccentric portrait of an eccentric man.
Dir: Will Sharpe (12) (111 mins)
Released in cinemas on Sat 1 Jan; available on Amazon Prime at a later date.
words KEIRON SELF
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