[Screen It]


(2021) (Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy) (PG-13)

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Drama: An eccentric man ends up famous for his illustrations featuring anthropomorphized cats and kittens.

It's the 1880s and Louis Wain (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) is a somewhat eccentric man with many interests, but his real gift is his ability to draw with both hands simultaneously. That's landed him a job working for Sir William Ingram (TOBY JONES) at the Illustrated London News. But with Louis now the sole breadwinner for his family -- consisting of five younger sisters and their mother -- oldest sister Caroline (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH) is constantly critical of almost everything about him.

That includes when he ends up falling for and then marrying their governess, Emily Richardson (CLAIRE FOY), resulting in him moving out of the house. While they don't have kids, they rescue a young kitten that they name Peter and that ends up serving as Louis' muse, resulting in lots of drawings of the kitty.

After tragedy strikes, those end up being the outlet for his grief and he becomes famous for those drawings of anthropomorphized cats and kittens. But with his mental health in question as the years go on, it's uncertain what will become of the man known for giving cats a newfound good reputation in the public's eye.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I'm crazy about cats, having lived with various ones for the vast majority of my fifty-seven laps around the sun. And with the advent of digital and then smartphone cameras, I have an impressive array of photos of those furry companions from their adorable kitten stages to their still cute and funny adult years.

That said, I'm not what one would call a crazy cat dad (referring to myself...the cats are often crazy in their behavior), and our house isn't adorned with anything cat-related that, well, isn't directly associated with our two felines. There are no cat decorations, quilts, artwork, or what have you to be found. Thus, when I heard about the film "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain," my immediate response was "Who?"

To get those of you like me who didn't recognize that name up to speed, he was an English artist who became most famous for his late 1880s and early 1900s drawings of anthropomorphized cats and kittens. It's been said, although I can find no solid proof beyond hearsay, that those illustrations helped such felines shake off their bad Middle Ages stigma and become more widely accepted as pets during Wain's times. That said, and what's pretty much undeniable, is that with hundreds of books, postcards, and illustrations in newspapers and magazines, he's probably the most published cat-based artist of all time.

His story is now told in this drama from writer/director Will Sharpe and co-writer Simon Stephenson. And not to mix animal metaphors, but it's sort of an odd duck of a movie. That's especially true early on when the seemingly whimsical aura designed to envelop the proceedings ends up feeling both rushed and forced (while it does ebb after a while, it occasionally pops up such as when we see on-screen captions/subtitles telling us what some of the cats are saying).

That's when we meet Louis (Benedict Cumberbatch) in 1881 and hear from the narrator that with the death of his father he's now the sole breadwinner of his family that consists of five younger sisters and their mother. With the latter apparently unable to function in that role, the oldest of the girls, Caroline (Andrea Riseborough), has assumed matriarchal duties including constantly scolding Louis for both his eccentricities (he's obsessed with electrical undercurrents in everything) and his lack of making enough money to support the family.

Accordingly, he gets a job as an illustrator working for the Illustrated London News run by Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones) who's impressed by the artist's ability to simultaneously sketch with both hands. But Louis -- who supposedly suffered from schizophrenia but more likely had Asperger's or some similar condition on the autism scale, at least based on Cumberbatch's performance) -- doesn't really hit his stride (the same can be said about this film) until he falls for his sister's new governess, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy).

They're quickly married -- much to the scandalous reaction of nearly everyone else, what with the differences in their age and social status -- and not long thereafter rescue an abandoned kitten they name Peter. When pending tragedy sinks its claws into the new couple, the kitty ends up being Louis' muse of sorts, resulting in lots of drawings and illustrations, especially once he finds himself bereft of human companionship. The rest of the film then focuses on the rest of his life.

After the somewhat rough start, the film does find its (four) legs and turns out to be a decent, but not terribly remarkable or memorable film about what I presume was likely an interesting if not downright fascinating real-life figure. I wish I could say the flick was purr-fect or the cat's meow, but for this cat lover "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain" only rates as an indifferent 5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 18, 2021 / Posted October 22, 2021

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