The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Review

This film wasn’t really on my radar before the trailers started being shown before pretty much any drama film in UK cinemas. That said, the trailers made the film look pretty interesting, especially in the visuals, which made me excited for this film. Watching the film though, there are good things in the film but I feel this is a case of style over substance.

The film focuses on the life of artist Louis Wain, showing his differing interests and him trying to do various types of work, in order to support him and his family. He soon falls in love with his family’s governess, Emily Richardson, and ends up marrying her. During their time together, Wain starts to paint pictures of cats, which soon defined his artistic career. There are interesting ideas raised here over the nature of mental health and the role it plays in personal and artistic expression and how societal expectations play a role in social standing and the nature of relationships. There is also a good sense of the changing relationship between humans and cats through the artwork of Louis Wain. However, there is a sense that these ideas, particularly near the end of the film, are pretty rushed. In particular, I felt that the relationship between Wain and his family could have been fleshed out a bit more. There are scenes showing how Wain’s actions have impacted his family, but it feels that these scenes could have been given more focus.

The performances are pretty solid throughout. Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly the person you get to place someone like Louis Wain and he is, as expected, strong in the role. He has the right charisma for the role and does a good job showing the deteriorating mental health of Wain. Clare Foy is strong as Elizabeth, having good chemistry with Cumberbatch and making for a good balance with Cumberbatch’s personality. There’s solid work from Toby Jones and Andrea Riseborough in supporting roles, although the script doesn’t give them much to do. Olivia Colman is fun as the narrator of the film and, whilst they are underutilised, Asim Chaudhry and Adeel Akhtar are fun to watch in their roles and Hayley Squires makes a strong impression, although she is very underutilised. There are also interesting cameos from Richard Ayoade, Taika Waititi and Nick Cave.

The technical elements of the film are well handled. The music throughout the film has both a whimsical and melancholic vibe that creates a good atmosphere throughout the film. The use of 4:3 for the framing of the film works well in creating the vibe of Wain’s artwork. The direction from Will Sharpe is also pretty solid. Whilst it’s not as visually interesting as his work on something like Landscapers, I still found his work here to be well handled. The direction and cinematography of the film work well in creating the feel of artwork from the time, aided by the colour grading and the costume and production design, the scenes which are a bit more surreal being the best elements of the film on a visual level.

Overall, there are interesting ideas at play in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain but this does feel like a case of style over substance. Not enough time is given to show how the events of the film affect Wain in his mental health, particularly at the end of the film, nor does it give enough attention to Wain’s family. Visually this is a treat, but I think, on the whole, it does feel more focused on creating the feel of Wain’s artwork.

My Rating: 3/5

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