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TIFF Review: The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain Is A Captivating, Uneven Biopic

Examining the inspiration for his famous cat drawings, the film is a whimsical, warm, captivating, and tonally uneven story about the illustrator.

Cats are beloved pets now, but they’ve historically been thought to bad omens, the companions of witches, or worshipped. House pets they were not. At least, not until the artist Louis Wain changed the attitude of the public through his work, in which he painted anthropomorphic cats, popularizing them as cute and friendly creatures that could bring comfort to humans. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, directed by Will Sharpe from a screenplay by him and Simon Stephenson, is a biographical drama that delves into Wain’s personal and professional life. Examining the inspiration for his famous cat drawings, the film is a whimsical, warm, captivating, and tonally uneven story about the illustrator.

Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an artist who is struggling to make ends meet for his family, which consists of his mother and his five sisters, following the death of his father. He takes on odd jobs before he is hired by Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones) as a full-time illustrator for The Illustrated London News. Things are alright for a while and his sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough) hires a governess. Suffice to say that Louis is immediately taken with the whip-smart and thoughtful Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), though their blossoming relationship becomes the talk of the town (and not in a good way). The two marry, but Emily is diagnosed with breast cancer not long after, with the couple spending their time together in London with their pet cat Peter, which brings Emily comfort. Inspired by Peter and his ability to soothe, Louis begins drawing the feline and others, publishing hundreds of anthropomorphic cat illustrations over the course of his career. 

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