Two of our favorite period drama veterans – Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy – are starring in “Louis Wain,” an upcoming biopic about the Victorian era British artist.

Cumberbatch in The Abominable Bride, Children's book by Louis Wain, Louis Wain.

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Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hollow Crown, The Imitation Game) has been cast as Louis Wain, the London-born artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. The actor is “thrilled by the prospect of playing the courageous, playful spirit that is Louis Wain,” and called Wain’s life story “inspirational and Odyssean.” The first photo of the upcoming British drama has been released, see below. 

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.

Louis Wain, courtesy Amazon Studios

Claire Foy (The Crown, Little Dorrit) will play 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.

Louis Wain cats postcard

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. “

Cumberbatch is also producing the movie, which he promises will be a “sincerely uplifting, playful, thought-provoking tale of resilience, creativity and the enduring power of love.” Studiocanal, Shoebox, Film4 and Amazon, who has purchased the US rights, also produce.

When Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch discussed their careers as part of Variety‘s latest season of “Actors on Actors” series, Cumberbatch (a fan of The Crown) praised Foy’s acting, saying she “was quite an extraordinary actress, deft beyond belief.”

Andrea Riseborough (The Witness for the Prosecution) and Toby Jones (The Old Curiosity Shop) also star in the period drama. Director Will Sharpe called the group of actors “a dream cast,” adding that they have “a fantastic team behind the camera too. It’s going to be a real pleasure to build this world with such a wonderful group of people.”

Filming is underway in London. Amazon Studios will release the film in the U.S. in 2020.

Also look for Cumberbatch in the upcoming 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.