Great Britain

Cats’ dirty little secret: it’s a horny feline romp | Catherine Shoard

The first clue was the silence. Neither whoops of entertainment nor hoots of derision met the first press screening of Tom Hooper’s riotously anticipated Cats. Yet more ominously: there was no munching. The free popcorn went untouched as soon as the film began. This was not politesse. Food was the last thing anyone fancied.

The problem with the film version of Cats isn’t that it’s bad. Bad is no barrier to box office success. It can be a boon: cackling gangs might make a date of it, staggering in with supplies so they can neck a shot every time they hear a synth. The casually curious fork out just to check the critics were correct. Appealing to rubberneckers is now the distributor’s key strategy, billing Cats as “the must-see experience of the festive season”.

That won’t work. Cats is bad: a calamity from which the careers of all involved may never recover. But, strangely enough, what makes it a mustn’t-ever-see is its sexuality. Yes, Cats turns out to be a nauseous orgy throbbing with the energy of a hundred horny cat-people, thrusting and licking, rubbing and lapping, ferociously randy despite a complete lack of genitals.

No one saw that coming. Reaction to the early trailers focused on the weird ears and Judi Dench in a jacket apparently fashioned from the hair of dead relatives. It isn’t until you’ve seen the finished film you realise: this is the kinkiest film you’ll see outside of a very niche fetish festival. Not that it’s erotic. Cats is pure bestial horror, a companion piece to The Human Centipede, in which kidnap victims are stitched together, mouth to anus.

This is all thanks to Hooper’s vision in attempting to hybridise actors and cats – a powerful caution that just because technology exists does not mean it should be used. While stage versions facilitate the illusion with wigs and leg-warmers, hirsute knickers and strategic muffs, the actors here have been stripped naked and digitally coated in fur. Every rippling contour is still on display, from Idris Elba’s peachy glutes to Taylor Swift’s wild thighs. Furry breasts are allowed – embraced, even – but all penises lopped off and every crotch homogeneously smoothed into a discreet hollow.

Yet what Hooper taketh away he also, unhappily, giveth. What some characters might be missing from the front has migrated to the back. On stage, tails dangled meekly, here they flex, vast and erect, jutting out from all-too-human buttocks, quivering and straightening to reflect the character’s emotions.

Cats is rated U: even the smallest tot is fine to see it. I would caution against this. Those children at the screening I attended appeared if not agog then certainly a bit confused. I asked the British Board of Film Classification whether they might not have been lenient. Nope, they replied: nothing sexy here, nothing you wouldn’t see on Strictly – plus: they’re cats! Any “freakiness” inferred by adults would never occur to kids.

Fair enough. I’m just reading too much into it. Yet I can’t help but remember watching Rebel Wilson’s massive tabby ecstatically rub her tail between her legs before moving on to a string of uncooked sausages. She then frightens mice with children’s faces before unzipping her own fur to reveal beneath another layer of fur and some pink, sequinned lingerie.

Nothing to see here. A festive treat for all the family.

Catherine Shoard is a Guardian columnist