Is The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Based on a True Story?

‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ is a quirky period drama that follows the life of an eccentric artist known for his depictions of cats. The film’s protagonist (and namesake) is an interesting man who has a turbulent life despite gaining popularity because of his visual style. His eclectic attitude gets him adoration but also causes him to remain relatively poor despite his success.

Perhaps most notably, his depictions of felines help popularize keeping them as pets, a practice unheard of in the film’s late 19th-century setting. The narrative of the film is simultaneously eclectic and tragic and follows a truly whimsical character. So could ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ be based on a true story? Let’s find out.

Is The Electrical Life of Louis Wain a True Story?

Yes, ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ is based on a true story. The film is a biographical drama that follows the life of the namesake artist, who hailed from London and was born in 1860. The film’s screenplay was penned by Simon Stephenson and Will Sharpe, with the latter also stepping in to direct. The story follows Wain from his early years as an artist and through his struggles with mental illness. It also depicts his famous pet cat Peter, who is understood to have inspired much of his work. In fact, Peter the cat seemingly inspired Wain to begin focussing his skills on drawing cats in the first place.

Image Credit: 2021 StudioCanal SAS – Channel 4

The film remains quite faithful to real life and even mentions how the artist was born with a cleft lip, which became a point of concern for him and stopped him from attending school until he was ten years of age. His tumultuous life at home with his five sisters, whom he supported ever since he was twenty and his father died, is also explored. As was the case in real life, in the film, Wain marries his sister’s governess Emily despite her being about ten years older than him, causing his sister to refer to the union as a gross impropriety. Much of the film then delves into Wain and Emily’s life together, which takes a tragic turn when the latter begins to suffer from breast cancer.

Thus, the film introduces us to one of the eccentric artist’s foremost muses, his pet cat Peter, who Emily found great solace in during her illness. In reality, Wain was heavily inspired by Peter, and one of his earliest works of anthropomorphized cats (which he became famous for) depicts a hundred and fifty cats, many of them resembling his pet. Peter was initially rescued and adopted as a kitten by Wain and his wife. Unfortunately, as depicted in the film, Emily died three years into their marriage.

Most notably, the film delves into Wain’s neuroatypical condition, which resulted in eccentric habits (and abilities) like drawing simultaneously with both hands. He was known to be able to begin a single drawing from both sides of the page and, drawing with both hands, meet with perfect accuracy in the middle. In the film, we see Wain create an intricate drawing while working vigorously with both hands. It has also been suggested that the artist had schizophrenia and that his art became increasingly stylized and abstract because of his mental condition.

The film symbolizes Wain’s mental state through the use of bright colors, which stand out from the otherwise muted vintage backdrop. As the story progresses, the artist is depicted to lose touch with reality further but continues to draw even as he is moved from one mental institution to another.

‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ thus follows the true biographical story of artist Louis Wain and highlights some of the most famous moments of his life. However, it is a daunting task to elaborate on the nuances of the eccentric man’s later years wherein he struggled with mental illness. Hence, the film relies on ethereal visuals to signify Wain’s changing perspective while remaining true to the various incidents that shaped his life.

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