- Hamish Hart
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021) Review
BEING electrical is often associated with being eccentric or power-driven; traits which famed British artist Louis Wain possessed in spades with his hypnagogic depiction of cats. Wain's paintings helped popularise felines to what they are today, with director Will Sharpe exhibiting his life in a feature that's as whimsical as it is wistful.
The Electrical Life showcases the entirety of Louis Wain's (Benedict Cumberbatch) life. From drawing outlandish artworks of cats, to meeting his eventual wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) before meeting his untimely end after allegedly being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Wain's unconventional life is portrayed in a pessimistic manner, setting up inevitable tragedies in amongst the joys of his craft where his mental health quietly fades in the background.
As a biopic, Sharpe accurately details the countless struggles and successes the Wain family went through, particularly Louis whose psychological decline is presented in a conflicting manner when compared to the film's colourful surface. The Electrical Life is as bright as the name suggests, utilising vibrant colour palettes to hide the underlining darkness of its subject characters. But while its splashy appearance is a joy to look at, particularly during lingering shots, the colours ironically overshadow the true meaning of the story, making the tone feel unbalanced as scenes will feature grim moments of development; only for their importance to be extinguished by humour and joy the next as very little time is given for these somber moments to sink in, affecting their impact to the ongoing story; the definition of style-over-substance.
Disinterest sadly occurs whilst watching The Electrical Life, but thanks to the strong performances given by all involved, this apathetic biopic turned itself around, making you care for their pain in the moment if nothing else. Award-winning actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy star as the off-centred couple, providing moments of clarity and misery through subtle facial and bodily shifts, accentuating their progression through the bleakest of situations. This is most prominent during the film's final act where Louis' health rapidly declines, causing him to break down in a sea of tears as he can't fathom his life without Emily, fracturing his frame of mind in a standout moment for the film as it's one of the few times where the mixture of style and subtlety blends together seamlessly. Toby Jones, Andrea Riseborough and Aimee Lou Wood also deliver wonderful performances, but it truly is the Cumberbatch and Foy show, bringing much-needed emotional attachment to their respective characters as the screenplay failed to include an adequate amount of it.
Sharpe's bold take on such an eccentric and formidable figure is something to be admired, but the end result portrays The Electrical Life of Louis Wain as one that is less electrical and more drained, lacking the emotional investment needed to bring any sort of spark to one of art's most renowned and inspirational figures. Glimmers of quality are certainly evident in Sharpe's vision, but the film's outstanding visuals and performances sadly exposes its fundamental flaw due to the lack of characterisation and essence, much like a painting without any purpose.