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Cats – the movie
a review by Harlow Writers’ resident cat lover
Cats was dubbed ‘the big Christmas film’ and, having seen the West End show twice, I had to experience it at the cinema.
The film drew me in from the outset. The excellent musicality and special effects contributed to its appeal, and the sheer professionalism of the cast swept things along in a spellbinding whirl. Compared to the stage version the big screen added impact, but the cinema was crowded and I was only four rows from the front – any closer and it could have been overpowering.
The film is fast moving and colourful, with lots to take in. I think watching on DVD at home would have the same dramatic impact but be a little easier on the eye.
The choreography was fantastic, especially from ballerina Francesca Hayward who played Victoria, the White Cat. At the start of the film she is unceremoniously dumped in the street in a sack - a sad reminder of a situation many cats face.
Despite this, the film is Christmassy, with a sumptuous feel, big on detail yet retaining the starkness of stray cats living in the shabby backstreets of London’s West End. The atmospheric night time element, with the moon high in the sky, was very akin to the West End show and it sometimes felt more like a show than a film: indeed, I had to stop myself from clapping after each number. Others obviously felt the same - at the end the audience gave a standing ovation!
At times I felt the film was better than the show, in terms of content, characters and story, though there are pros and cons. The film removed elements that I felt were drawn-out in the stage show, such as the cast reciting some of the poetry by T.S. Eliot. The music and poetry of the film kept to a tighter schedule.
The only scene I found disappointing was Mr Mistofelees’ conjuring act. It was tentative and faltering. In the London Palladium live show it was much more dynamic.
The cast was magnificent, especially Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy and Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, who aids and abets the villainous Macavity, played by Idris Elba.
Bombalurina’s song for Macavity is a particular highlight as she vies with the Jellicle Cats. She performs on Macavity’s behalf, who is plotting to go to the HeavySide Layer, a sort of cat heaven. Swinging seductively on a glowing moon, strewing sparkling Catnip from a shimmering can, she sends the other cats into a drug-addled stupor.
As Macavity appears, confidently swaggering up the steps towards the HeavySide Layer, Old Deuteronomy wades in to put a stop to things. “Never!” says Judi Dench, with utter conviction.
The scene when Victoria the White Cat gets lured away by cat burglars Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer to help ransack a wealthy home is a particular favourite. The compelling jazz tones made the whole scene breath-taking.
I find it hard to understand criticism levied at this film version of Cats: such as the special effects not being up to scratch (no pun intended) (Are you sure? Ed): negative comments about Cats as a ‘dog’s dinner’ seem unnecessary to me: Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, accused of singing Memory in a schmaltzy way. I thought it was sung beautifully and, if it was schmaltzy, then the touch of sentimentality fitted in well with a poor broken soul like Grizabella reminiscing about her ‘days in the sun’ when she was
a glamour puss. Jennifer Hudson gave the song a different slant but
retained all the humility and raw passion portrayed by Elaine Paige.
Comparisons to Elaine Paige are unhelpful - she can’t sing the song
The film has justly received many compliments as a musical
extravaganza worthy of an Oscar.
In all, I found the film version of Cats a joy to watch, occasionally
heart-wrenchingly sad, then so funny I almost cried with laughter.
I could easily watch the film again –
and if you get the chance to see it, I recommend it to you.