Cats trailer’s weirdness would have appealed to TS Eliot, suggests estate

Trustees of the poet’s legacy, welcoming the forthcoming film, say it is no stranger than his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Although the trailer for the film adaptation of Cats divided the internet when it was released last week, TS Eliot would likely have approved of the “rich strangeness” that has disturbed so many, according to his estate.

Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote the poems that form Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, on which both Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical and Tom Hooper’s forthcoming film are based, in the 1930s. Initially, he addressed them in letters to his godchildren under the name Old Possum. They were first published in 1939. Eliot died in 1965.

Hooper’s film stars a host of big names including Dame Judi Dench, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson and James Corden, but when the trailer was released on Thursday, many people were horrified at the singing human-cat hybrids, based on Eliot’s feline characters Macavity, Bustopher Jones and Rum Tum Tugger.

Clare Reihill, who administers the Eliot estate, said that while it was pure conjecture to speculate what Eliot would have thought of the look of Hooper’s adaptation, she suspected he would have been most pleased by the aspects that disturbed viewers.

“The cats in the poems inhabit a world that is slightly unfixed: sometimes the cats seem to exist in a normal human world, sometimes they seem to inhabit an all-feline one – it’s never quite clarified,” she said.

“I think Eliot might have enjoyed the rich strangeness of the blurring of the boundary between human and cat in the trailer, which is in keeping with the elusiveness of the world of the poems – or indeed the nocturnal surrealism of something like Rhapsody on Windy Night [the basis of the song Memory]. He was also a great fan of Jacques Tati’s movies, with their surreal urban ballets.”

When Lloyd Webber created the musical Cats, which opened in the West End in 1981, the Eliot estate insisted that the original text was used for the lyrics of the songs. Reihill commented: “That was the case with the stage show, and it’s pretty much the same with the film. The text is based on the original poems with tweaks for narrative flow.”

The estate hasn’t been directly involved with the production of the movie, which is set to hit cinemas at Christmas, other than “to provide encouragement and enthusiasm”, she said.


David Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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