Louis Wain, Cat Populariser

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Our movie recommendation, with a little background.

Louis Wain, Cat Populariser

English short-haired tabbies by Louis Wain.

There's a feature film available on your streaming service if you can get Amazon Prime. It's called The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, and it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Toby Jones, and a really talented black-and-white tuxedo cat.

I was skeptical at first. These new films aren't long on accuracy, so 'based on a true story' fails to fill me with confidence. Oh, well, I thought: watching Benedict Cumberbatch cavort should be amusing, even if they get it all wrong.

The movie was delightful, the sets painterly, the humour actually funny, and the kitties adorable. When it was over, I did some googling, and was astounded: all of those things really happened. There really was a neurodivergent artist named Louis Wain. He really had five truly annoying sisters. And he really did make cats so popular that people in England started keeping them as pets.

I found some of his artwork in a back issue (1889) of the English Illustrated Magazine. I showed them to Elektra, who had just watched the movie with me.

White kittens being annoyed by a squirrel, by Louis Wain.

'Oh, a squirrel,' remarked Elektra. 'Notice how one of the kittens is hissing at it. He's a good observer.'

'The English would sigh and say, "Oh, Squirrel Nutkin",' I replied.

'Of course they would,' sighed Elektra.

Here is a picture of Peter, Louis Wain's favourite cat and the inspiration for his oeuvre.

Peter, by Louis Wain.

Anyway, we recommend the film. It's beautiful to look at (the colours are gorgeous), it's whimsical without being twee, and it is moving in the right places. The only historical inaccuracy I can see is that Louis Wain was actually better-looking than Cumberbatch. But Cumberbatch makes up for it in sheer comedic talent. It's worth the ninety minutes just for his swim in a Victorian pool. Everything you needed to know about Louis Wain was in that swimming strokeā€¦

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