Two of our favorite period drama veterans – Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy – star in “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” a 2021 biopic about the Victorian and Edwardian British artist.
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Read on for a look at Louis Wain’s life, details about the film, the premiere date, the first clip of the British drama, photos, and more.
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hollow Crown, The Imitation Game) portrays Louis Wain, the London-born artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. When the film was first announced, the actor said he was “thrilled by the prospect of playing the courageous, playful spirit that is Louis Wain,” and called Wain’s life story “inspirational and Odyssean.”
In the 1880s, Wain (1860 – 1939) was employed by popular journals as an illustrator specializing in English country houses and animals, but he became famous for his drawings and watercolors of cats engaged in human behaviors.
Claire Foy (The Crown, Little Dorrit) takes on the role of his wife Emily, who was governess to Wain’s five sisters before her marriage. The engagement caused a stir, partly because Emily was 10 years older than her husband; Wain was 23 at the time. Emily soon developed breast cancer, and was comforted by the company of a stray cat the couple rescued. Wain began to sketch the cat Peter, and Emily urged her husband to publish the images.
About Peter, Wain wrote “To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.” Tragically, Emily died just three years into their marriage and Wain turned inward, but his cats took on more life.
By the close of the 19th century, “Wain’s cats began to walk upright, smile broadly and use other exaggerated facial expressions, and would wear sophisticated, contemporary clothing. Wain’s illustrations showed cats playing musical instruments, serving tea, playing cards, fishing, smoking, and enjoying a night at the opera. Such anthropomorphic portrayals of animals were very popular in Victorian England.”
In the Edwardian era, Wain’s cats became playful commentary on the trends of the day. Originally available as children’s books, posters, and postcards, Wain’s work is still popular, and can be found reproduced across an array of merchandise, like tote bags, greeting cards, and mugs. According to Illustration Chronicles, the prolific artist “illustrated more than two-hundred books and had sixteen hugely successful Christmas annuals. “
In “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” there’s financial crisis, fairytale-like settings in the British countryside, comedic and quirky moments, class-defying romance, unexpected cameos, cute kittens, and tragedy. Cumberbatch promises these add up to a “sincerely uplifting, playful, thought-provoking tale of resilience, creativity and the enduring power of love.”
Joining Cumberbatch and Foy are Toby Jones (The Witness for the Prosecution) as Wain’s long-suffering editor at the Illustrated London News, Phoebe Nicholls (Doctor Thorne) as his mother, and Andrea Riseborough (The Devil’s Whore) as his sister who disapproves of her brother’s match with the governess. Olivia Colman (The Crown) narrates.
When Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch discussed their careers as part of Variety‘s “Actors on Actors” series, Cumberbatch (a fan of The Crown) praised Foy’s acting, saying she “was quite an extraordinary actress, deft beyond belief.” Director Will Sharpe called the group of actors “a dream cast.” Deadline, who screened the film at the Telluride Film Festival, would seem to agree with both, praising Foy and Cumberbatch (and the cats) as an “irresistible combination.”
Amazon Studios releases the film in the U.S. in 2021; look for it in theaters October 22 and on Prime Video November 5. Watch the clip below.
Also look for Cumberbatch in the period-set films The Power of the Dog and the World War I drama “1917.” Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy have previously starred opposite each other in the 2011 British film Wreckers.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see Period Films List. You’ll especially like the Best Period Dramas: Victorian Era List. Also see the news about The Power of the Dog.