The Electrical Life of Louis Wain @ TIFF

another film screening at the Toronto International Benedict Cumberbatch Film Festival…oops, I mean at TIFF. But you can see how I could easily make that mistake as Mr. Cumberbatch is one of the shining stars of the fest with two of the most anticipated films being part of the program.

My second film of his is from the U.K. and directed and co-written by Will Sharpe (Black Pond) and here Cumberbatch brings to life a real-life person who is as far away from his character in The Power of the Dog as can be. Yet he seamlessly disappears into Louis Wain, bringing the talented but unstable man who delighted people with his illustrations of cats. He was the man credited with making cats appealing as pets.

At the end of the 19th century, the talented academy-trained but flighty Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game, Star Trek: Into Darkness) is ill-suited to support a family as he can barely take care of himself, but life circumstances have left him as the provider for his five sisters and widowed mother. Against his desire to go through life haphazardly, Louis takes a job as an illustrator for a London newspaper run by the kindly (Toby Jones – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Atomic Blonde). Because he is busy with his job, eldest sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough – Oblivion, Battle of the Sexes) has engaged a governess for the three youngest Wain girls. Louis is categorically against the hire, saying he can handle his job and the education of his young sisters. That is until he meets the new governess.

Once Louis sets his eyes upon equally quirky Emily Richardson (Claire Foy – from television’s The Crown) it is interest and then love at first sight. Though different, the two are perfectly suited. Despite the aghast from society at large at Louis courting a woman from the working classes, the two forge ahead and are soon married.

Very much in love, the two set up in a house outside of the city. there they do as they please. Louis draws and Emily adopts a cat which they call Peter. Peter inspires Louis to start drawing cats. No one could have predicted how popular his cat illustrations became. But as is unfortunately often the case tragedy befalls Louis and his wife and sends the already odd artist into a tailspin which he would never really recover from.

Narrated by the wonderful Olivia Colman (from television’s The Crown) and featuring two short cameos from Taika Waitita (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok) and singer Nick Cave (Johnny Suede) as H.G. Wells, this is a film bursting with imagination. From the free-flowing way the story is told to the often wild colours and how the cast buys into bringing their “different” characters to life. All involved seem to be pulling in the same direction. As such the film, due to the odd but largely endearing cast of characters, the multitude of cute cats and emotional pull of the story, is easy to like.

Will Benedict Cumberbatch be competing against himself in the Best Actor category in the spring of next year? I mean, this is another great performance from him. Really showing his capabilities as an actor in the two TIFF films. Totally different characters asking him for different skill sets. Yet he never shows any hesitation with either Phil or Louis. The Brit seems to, like many other Brits, have no end to the types of films he can star in or characters he can bring to life. He has done period, Marvel, neo-Western, sci-fi, straight up drama, and voice work in an animated film. Brilliant actor!

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