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Issue 1784 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Film editor Eva Borras reviews the most recent feature by Will Sharpe, coming to the big screen on the 1st of January

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Film & TV

in Issue 1784

Film Review

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

★ ★ ★ ★
UK Cinemas
Out 1st January 2022

This 2021 feature coming to cinemas on New Years day tells the story of British artist Louis Wain, a successful yet eccentric illustrator born in the 19th century mostly known for his peculiar style of drawing cats. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the film follows Wain's personal adult life in parallel to his public figure picture after his dad dies and he is left to provide for his mother and sisters.

The feature begins by introducing Louis doing what he later becomes famous for; drawing. The audience follows his career from the beginning and slowly gets to know the main characters of the film: his sisters' governess Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), his sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough) and Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), the editor of the Illustrated London News who happens to offer him a job.

From my point of view, the film could be divided into two parts as the focus of the story changes slightly part way through. At first the plot is completely based on the growing love story between Louis and Emily, with no focus on his career as an artist. At times it felt like the movie would be based only on their romance, however a turning point comes when Wain's illustrations start to get recognition from the public. The film starts to deviate into highlighting his uniqueness as an artist for drawing psychedelic-like cats. The link between the start of his obsession with cats and his art is well portrayed as the director carefully depicts how the fact that he adopts a cat in his personal life completely influences his focus of work in his professional life.

It would be unfair to not mention the amazing casting for the film. A true spectacle to see how every actor completely disguises themselves in their characters, especially Cumberbatch. Although the themes of the film vary throughout and the end left me feeling bittersweet, the main message is clear: there is always a reason to hold on and keep being motivated to enjoy life. Richardson tells Wain: “the world is full of beauty. And it’s up to you to capture it, Louis”.

In terms of cinematography, “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” stands out due to the chosen 4:3 frame ratio and vibrant colours during specific scenes – as well as a couple of shots which create a painting-like aesthetic to ensure the viewer gets a snapshot of the pivotal parts of the film.

Overall, Sharpe's feature is an entertaining biopic that doesn’t go into detail about the mental health issues faced by the artist's adult life – but rather how he expressed them through painting the different ways he saw the world.

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