- Emma Simmonds
- 19 December 2019
The megamusical finally makes it to the big screen and you won't believe your eyes
What on earth were they thinking? When the first trailer for Tom Hooper's take on the Andrew Lloyd Webber megamusical landed in July, the astonishing folly of its poorly, but no doubt expensively, rendered human-cat hybrids nearly broke the internet, bringing together hardened foes in the spirit of disbelief and cheerful ridicule. Perhaps they should have stuck with the face-paint and legwarmers.
It may be that the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who are capable of enjoying Cats and those who aren't. For some, the concept is simply too silly while, narratively speaking, it is certainly unconventional. Based on TS Eliot's poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a tribe of felines known as the Jellicles assemble once a year to decide which of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer to, in effect, be reborn. What follows is basically a series of jazzed-up introductions to the contenders. Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables) and co-writer Lee Hall give us a connecting thread by beefing up the role of Victoria (ballerina Francesca Hayward, a screen newcomer) who is slung into proceedings in a sack thrown from a car and spends the duration wearing an expression of bewilderment that makes her character easy to identify with.
You become inured to it after a while but, for a time, it feels like a series of escalating abominations – your eyes widening as you struggle to process what and who you are seeing ('Is that Ray Winstone?' you may ask. Yes, yes it is). Nevertheless, there are scenes where you're taken right back to the shock and horror of the trailer. One such moment is when Idris Elba, who spends the bulk of the film sensibly skulking in the shadows as Macavity, whips off his coat during a song and dance routine with Taylor Swift and you might find yourself diving to cover the eyes of the nearest child. In fact, despite the glaring lack of genitals, the 'nakedness' of the actors unnerves throughout, proving particularly painful when things get 'sexy'.
Judi Dench dodges the booty-shaking in her pivotal, gender-swapped role of Old Deuteronomy, who emerges from fog the furriest of them all. At one point she shares a lingering look with comrade Ian McKellen which seems to say 'You too?' The film's trump card though is Jennifer Hudson, who's forced to trot out the showstopping 'Memories' twice; she does so with real emotional aplomb, properly socking it to us the second time, but it feels adrift without a credible context and it's hard to forget that it's being sung to us by a woman dressed as a cat. McKellen's understated number is rather sweet too, while the sheer vigour and professionalism of the performers in the face of the madness is admirable. Falling short of the expected cat-astrophe, it's more flabbergasting than truly terrible.
General release from Fri 20 Dec.