Benedict Cumberbatch gives an electrifying performance

It turns out that I have Louis Wain to thank for a life in service to my cats – before his whimsical illustrations became popular at the turn on the last century cats were apparently seen as either feral or functional. Driven by a skewed outlook on life, and an almost wilful reluctance to conform to the norms of the day, Wain was – depending on your inclination – a unique visionary or completely bonkers. Either way, in director Will Sharpe’s whimsical, yet melancholy, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain we see that there was so much more to the contradictory man than wide-eyed moggy’s playing the fiddle.

Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as the troubled, borderline delusional, artist. Baring more vulnerability than we are used to seeing, his is an affecting and affectionate portrait of a man-child blessed with extraordinary artistic skills, yet cursed with an inability to properly exploit them. In a starry cast, Toby Jones is as reliable as ever as a kindly newspaper proprietor, while Claire Foy (as the governess of his children) brings a warmth and authenticity to a role that might have so easily have descended into caricature. Watch out, too, for some fun cameos from the likes of Richard Ayoade, Olivier Coleman and Nick Cave.

Sharpe uses all manner of visual trickery to emphasis Wain’s mental instability, but notwithstanding the kaleidoscopic construction of this immersive film (we get subtitled cat voices, giant cat heads on human bodies, and an intense pallet of riotous colour) at its heart is a simple, and sad, tale of a misunderstood man who nonetheless saw what everyone else missed. Which is, to quote Claire Foy, that cats are “ridiculous, silly, cuddly, frightened and brave.”