Skip to main content
film review

Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.Jaap Buitendijk/Amazon Studios

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.

  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
  • Directed by Will Sharpe
  • Written by Will Sharpe and Simon Stephenson
  • Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy and Taika Waititi
  • Classification PG; 111 minutes
  • Opens in select theatres Oct. 22

Critic’s pick

The Victorian illustrator Louis Wain does not make an easy subject for a biopic. Now more-or-less obscure, he was famous in his day for his sentimental and heavily anthropomorphized drawings of cats: cats taking tea; cats playing golf, etc. But he was also a mad inventor type, with kooky theories about the extraordinary powers of both cats and electricity who grew increasingly erratic as he aged. Having failed to register his copyrights, he fell into poverty and spent his later years in an asylum suffering from delusions.

Director Will Sharpe and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy do their damnedest to turn this life into a heartwarming story about making space for creative eccentricity. That means devoting half the film to Wain’s young and tragically short marriage to his sisters’ governess, portrayed by the sympathetic Foy as another oddball but one blessed with the practical skills Wain lacked. Cumberbatch excels once again at breathing life into a sorrowful genius.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.