The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Louis Wayne (Benedict Cumberbatch) was born August 5, 1860. He was the eldest child in a family in which, in addition to Louis, there were five more girls. When Louis was twenty years old, his father died, and Louis had to support his mother and five sisters – later spinsters, none of whom ever married.

Louis, who had the talent of an artist since childhood, depicted English rural life – houses, estates, animals – and these illustrations were bought by several publications, including one of the most popular newspapers in Victorian England, Illustrated London News: it was published by Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones) .

Louis was a strange young man, ill-adjusted to ordinary life. He had no business acumen, he could never demand a decent fee for himself, except for drawing, he boxed, tried to invent some strange devices and even wrote operas, he was also obsessed with the idea of ​​​​the influence of natural electricity on relations between people, and when Sir William Ingram offered him a position as a full-time illustrator, but Wayne initially refused, because he liked the position of a freelance artist much more.

However, the five sisters that Louis had to support, because at that time women could get at least some livelihood only by getting married, he was quickly explained why he simply had no right to refuse the publisher’s offer, after which Wayne agreed become a staff artist for Illustrated London News.

The Louis sisters had a governess, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy). The sisters wanted to refuse Emily a place out of banal economy, but, oddly enough, Luis himself opposed this, so Emily stayed. Louis had an affair with Emily, and as a result, Wayne made an offer to Emily, which caused a certain shock in London society: the marriage of a representative of the corresponding class to a governess in those days was simply a challenge to public morality.

However, Louis, as a somewhat asocial person, was not particularly worried about what society thought about his act. She and Emily loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company, but, unfortunately, their happiness did not last very long: Emily’s doctors discovered breast cancer of the fourth degree.

At some point, the couple found a small black-and-white kitten in the garden. They took him into their house, named him Peter, and Louis, who was always good at impersonating animals, began to draw Peter, and then other cats. Moreover, if initially these were just images of cats, cats and kittens, then later Louis began to draw them anthropomorphic, that is, he gave animals human features. In his paintings, cats walked on their hind legs, played poker, drank tea, and also parodied human behavior in every possible way.


The original title of this biopic about the life of a real-life artist is The Electric Worlds of Louis Wayne. And for the United Statesn box office, the name was changed completely in vain, despite the fact that Louis Wain was really known primarily as an artist who created a huge number of paintings and drawings of cats: Louis completely changed the attitude of the British towards these fluffy scoundrel animals, which had previously been either deified or feared , considering them to be carriers of witchcraft spells. And in the society of the time, it was unthinkable to take a kitten home as a pet. Dogs – yes, cats – but what is it, these cats?!

But the film is not so much about the work of this artist and his “cat period”, but about his life as such, and the director of the picture, Will Sharp, tried to tell in the film about a long period of Wayne’s life from twenty years to the end of his life.

The first part of the film, which tells about the twenty-year-old Louis, was filmed in a somewhat comedic vein and is reminiscent of Wes Anderson films in terms of the style of production and color schemes. The moment of Wayne’s acquaintance with his sisters’ governess Emily, who was ten years older than him, as well as the subsequent romance and their married life, are shown very touchingly and romantically, however, as in Louis’s life everything changes dramatically after Emily’s death, so in the film the tone of the narration also changes dramatically.

After the death of his wife, whom he loved very much, Wayne somehow had to adapt to this whole damn life and he was saved by work – drawings and paintings that he created very quickly and in huge quantities: in reality he could make up to six hundred drawings a year.

But, by the way, this is shown quite clearly in the film, despite the huge popularity of his drawings, Louis did not earn much from this: he did not even bother to patent the rights to his images of cats, and everyone copied them, and Wayne from this didn’t get a dime. He also often sold his drawings with all rights, including the rights to reprints, and other people made good money from this, but not the artist himself.

Well, as a result, his family was always in debt like silk, and in 1907, Louis even had to flee to America (in the film, this was somewhat mitigated, explained simply by a lucrative offer, although in fact the artist simply fled after the trial over his debts ), where he was received very well, but three years later he returned to England after the death of his mother, after which the First World War began, Wayne was left destitute and began to gradually sink into the abyss of madness.

In the film, this is all, in general, shown, just in a somewhat softened form. Also, the director is somewhat torn between the desire to show the drama of this person, to recreate the corresponding era and to reflect some of the surreal visions of Louis Wayne, who, of course, lived in a somewhat special world of his own, but the mixture of all this turned out to be, how to say, not particularly whole. as many critics point out.

Nevertheless, I liked the picture, although I can also note some of its weaknesses. The whole first part – the artist’s youth, his acquaintance with Emily, their marriage and life before Emily’s death – is excellent. It is very well staged and played. The next two-thirds of the film – there is a feeling that the director cannot really decide what and in what style he will shoot next: episodes of Luis’ triumph are replaced by scandals in the family, then an unexplained departure to America, and the American part is made extremely indistinctly, then a return and then a somewhat sketchy story of how Wayne gradually went insane.

All this is periodically interspersed with visions of Wayne, who sees cats in people, and the cats in these visions sometimes turn into fractal-like patterns (this corresponds to the later works of Louis, which he painted while already in a psychiatric hospital), but this is just shown, in my opinion , somewhat clumsy and primitive.

The actors in the film are excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch is not the first to play such an asocial and idiosyncratic personality with his own psychological problems, and he plays Louis Wayne just fine. The role is complex and multifaceted: he is not just a kind of strange person who was under constant pressure from sisters, who went against generally accepted morality by marrying a woman ten years older than him, and even from a completely different, much lower social stratum, he also gradually loses his mind, and Cumberbatch, in my opinion, portrayed it all perfectly!

It is also necessary to note the skill of the make-up artists: in the picture, the artist is shown in his old age for a certain part of the time and Wayne looks very realistic.

I really liked the actress Claire Foy, who played Emily. Charming, understanding, sincerely carried away by this eccentric Louis, Emily accepted her illness, received at the very moment when at least something in her hard life began to give her pleasure, accepted with great dignity. She did not blame anyone for anything, she was grateful for the happiness that was provided to her at least for a short time, and she met it all very courageously. Great role, well played.

Publisher Sir William Ingram, actor Toby Jones also did a great job. It seems to be nothing special, the role is quite episodic, but memorable. It was difficult for Ingram to build a relationship with Louis – a very unpredictable person, but Sir William paid tribute to the talent of an illustrator, and he played an important role in his life, helping Wayne and his family in difficult moments.

In tiny roles, almost a cameo, here appeared Richard Ayoade (he played the conductor Henry Wood), Taika Waititi (American publisher Max Case) and – surprise, surprise – Nick Cave (but I won’t say who he played).

The film turned out to be not without flaws, somewhat chaotic, so to speak, but I watched it with pleasure. The opinions of viewers and critics about this picture were divided: some liked the film very much, while others argue that the director actually ruined a potentially winning topic. But I’m one of those who prefer to draw attention to the strengths of this film – great roles, an impressive picture, a very well-created setting of the Victorian era – which still compensate for certain flaws in the production.

Well, a few images of the real Louis Wayne and his paintings.

Portrait of the artist.

Louis Wayne at his desk with Peter. (By the way, the name of the cat was given in honor of the United Statesn Tsar Peter the Great.)

Several drawings by the artist.

PS The film was shot in the old 4:3 aspect ratio. (Now almost everyone shoots in 16:9 format.) What did the director mean by this? Well, apparently, he was trying to create the effect of old films in a similar way. In my opinion, he did it completely in vain and this format only interferes with the perception of the picture, but he is an artist, he sees it that way.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain review

Director: Will Sharp Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Jamie Demetriou, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Sharon Rooney, Aimee Lou Wood, Hayley Squires, Stacey Martin, Phoebe Nicholls, Taika Waititi, Richard Ayoade, Nick Cave, Sophie Di Martino

Biographical drama, UK, 2021, 111 min.

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