Andrea’s film review – The electrical life of Louis Wain

The electrical Life of Louis Wain ⭐️⭐️⭐ Review by Andrea Carnevali

️The English artist Louis Wain rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings that seemed to reflect his declining sanity. Out in the cinema now and on Amazon very soon.

If ever there was a manual with a list of tips for directors on how not to execute a biopic The electrical life of Louis Wain would be on it as the perfect example of a great story, with evocative settings, some wonderful actors and potentially broad appeal, completely wasted and reduced to an average Sunday afternoon TV film (with a bigger budget of course and actually looking very pretty), which will pass by almost unnoticed and will be quickly forgotten.

I know some people will probably enjoy this, but I can’t help feeling that it could have been so much better if it hadn’t been for the very bland direction and an even more pedestrian script.

It really felt like somebody had gone through Louis Wain’s Wikipedia page and written quick scenes for each of those entries and then strung them together with a terribly misjudged voice-over (A waste of Olivia Coleman really), joining the dots in some sort of half-coherent plot. If something didn’t quite work, we are told how we were meant to take it.

People spoke lines as if they had hindsight knowledge and a literature and philosophy degree. Lines like ‘’How you manage to conjure images of such delight in such a dark time?’’ or ‘’the world is full of beauty and it’s up to you to capture it and to share it with as many people as you can’’ are not just devoid of any subtlety, incredibly forced and clunky, but also treat the audience like children who need to be spoon-fed everything; they never ring true anyway.

The result is a biopic where people actually feel fake, because they are mainly going through the motions that the story requires rather than shown feeling any real emotions, so that the viewer can empathise with them.

Everything was “half-baked“, so I only half-smiled  during the funny scenes, I felt rather indifferent to the cats (this should have been a love-fest for cat lovers) and was only able to half enjoy the lovely painterly-looking moments because they were crowbarred in the film.

Crucially I was not moved by any of the tragic turns (and I am one of those who tears up at Christmas commercials too!) Despite the film focusing on one misery after another (another mistake in my view; it should have celebrated the genius of Wain a lot more) and despite the sweeping syrupy music making sure every single emotion was underlined with a few notes.

A perfect example what I am talking about is when, at a key moment of the film, we are told “the death of a pet drove Louis into such despair that he wept for years” (cue sad music) and then we’re off to the next scene. I mean… do I need to say more?

The film is episodic at its best, with so much crammed into it that it felt more like a SparkNotes version of Louis Wain’s life. It’s as if the film doesn’t quite know which story to tell and so it throws everything at the audience hoping something will eventually stick.

Thankfully the great talents of the whole cast, especially Claire Foy and the ever-so-busy Benedict Cumberbatch (this is the third film I see with him in the space of just a few weeks), make the journey slightly more pleasant and worthwhile despite the terrible script (“I feel electricity”… another ‘great’ line).

Enough that least to get to the end without feeling completely robbed of a great character with a fantastic story and some beautiful cinematography (Erik Wilson we are all waiting for you to get that Oscar soon).

So yes, three stars…  but really just about.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

The electrical life of Louis Wain is on in cinemas right now and will be available on Amazon very soon.

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