This is an odd sweet onion of a movie, which is to say, it is layered and a bit deceptive. It is served up as a slightly sweet and whimsical retelling of Louis Wain’s life, but it is, in fact, a bit closer to the bone on the subject. Director Will Sharpe and co-writer Simon Stephenson (Luca) created a biopic that feels light as it starts off, but most definitely has a bitter undertaste that overshadows it all.
They help keep it all buoyant through Olivia Colman’s (The Mitchells vs The Machines) wry and uplifting narration. Though I’m not sure if Sharpe layered that on later or realized they had an issue as the film initially came together before the cameras rolled. Either way, it does help balance out the story when combined with the overall message and various supporting characters in Wain’s life.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how two of the actors are playing against their typical casting. While Benedict Cumberbatch (The Mauritanian) often plays off-beat geniuses, Wain is delivered with a quiet vulnerability devoid of the assured ego that drives most of his characters. Not that Wain isn’t confident, but he is a sad and broken character even as he drives toward his visions due to his lack of understanding of the world. And Adeel Akhtar (Enola Holmes) plays one of the most stable, sweet and supportive characters I’ve seen him play. Both were welcomed shifts in their cv’s.
But there are a pile of wonderful supporting roles as well. Claire Foy (The Girl in the Spider’s Web), does her best, restrained Helena Bohnam Carter, and is delightful. And, as Wain’s sister, Andrea Riseborough (Made in Dagenham) provides a strong and desperate matriarch broken by circumstance; harsh but understandably frustrated. And, finally, Toby Jones (Atomic Blonde) as the family’s unexpected patron provides both humor and emotional respite.
And beyond all this, there is the story itself. One I didn’t know and aspects of which affected the world in unexpected ways…especially for cat lovers in the Western world. Give this one a shot and enjoy the interesting silly and sad of it all. It is a movie that walks a fascinating tightrope, and does it rather well.