HAVING been swallowed up by the Marvel machine in recent years, Benedict Cumberbatch rediscovers his individuality in Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain. This is a biopic for the eponymous Edwardian artist and tells of the quirky relationships he shared with cats and a governess called Emily (the ever-excellent Claire Foy).

Debate is rife these days as to what condition gave Wain his spark. Some argue autism, others speculate schizophrenia. Whatever the truth - we shall never know - there was a singularity to Wain’s vision unlike any other. Readers unfamiliar with his work may at least take interest in the assertion of H.G. Wells that “English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”

In his own lifetime, Wain was deemed erratic. An outsider. Who better to play such a man on screen as Cumberbatch? His is a performance more Alan Turing than Sherlock Holmes here but as safe for the actor as it is watchable.

Sharpe’s film opens in 1883 and eighteen months on from the death of Wain’s father, a textile trader and embroider. The passing of Wain senior left Louis at the head of a family of six: five sisters and his French mother. The breadwinner, as it were. Unable to work and support his sisters simultaneously, Louis hires Emily Richardson, a woman of lower class and ten years his senior, to guide the youngest two. The ensuing scandal that develops with the burgeoning of a courtship between Louis and Emily is indomitable.

Sharpe is not yet well known for his directorship. His debut was as indie as they come. More likely, it is for his acting - as Katherine Parkinson’s junior barrister in Defending the Guilty or for 2019’s Giri/Haji - that Sharpe will ring a bell. Louis Wain may prove a turning point. The film is no triumph but there is vision enough here to thoroughly engage.

Alongside Cumberbatch and Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Aimee Lou Wood, Hayley Squires, Sharon Rooney and Stacy Martin are pitch perfect as Louis’ sister, whilst Toby Jones and Olivia Coleman offer a touch of gravitas to their youth. There are even bit parts here for Taika Waititi and Australian rocker Nick Cave.

A buoyant tone doesn’t always sit well with the story’s darker inclinations but does at least bring levity to proceedings.