In bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-shattering stage musical Cats into a breakthrough cinematic event, the filmmakers sought a character that audiences could latch onto. Screenwriter Lee Hall says, “I thought, what if we follow one cat through the whole thing, and that’s how we came up with the idea of following one young cat, Victoria, on a coming-of-age journey through London.”
London’s Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Francesca Hayward plays Victoria in Cats in her feature film debut.
The character of Victoria was featured in the original stage musical and was a principal dancer in the show, but she was not a prominent character; she didn’t even have her own song. So, the filmmakers expanded the character to serve the narrative.
At the beginning of the film, Victoria has been abandoned in an alley and is introduced to the fantastical world of the cats on the night of their annual ball. Though abandoned, Victoria is not a victim. She needs help but she is not helpless. She has a kind heart and an inner strength.
“When we meet her, she’s still dealing with the pain of that abandonment, but she’s taken on a journey while meeting many new cats over the course of the story,” says Francesca Hayward. “Victoria quickly realizes that every cat she meets along her journey is practicing their audition pieces for the Jellicle ball. Their auditions are their big moments to prove themselves to Old Deuteronomy, played by Judi Dench, and to be chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer. Along her journey, she realizes that with this group of cats is where she’s meant to be.”
Victoria is drawn to one particular cat, Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), who has been shunned by the others. Victoria comes to Grizabella’s aid when the other cats mock her. She recognizes Grizabella’s worthiness and teaches the cats to be caring and inclusive, starting with accepting Grizabella back into the tribe. “Victoria and Grizabella form a connection because they’ve both been hurt and have experienced trauma,” Francesca Hayward says. “Victoria is younger than Grizabella, so she has the opportunity to create a better life for herself, and she tries to help Grizabella to see past her pain to do the same.”
By using the character of a shunned cat, Grizabella, and Victoria’s reaction to her, Hooper and Hall were able to create a central emotional arc to match their narrative one. “Cats is really about the power of community,” Hooper says. “It tells the story of this excluded cat Grizabella who’s on the margins of society, almost as if she represents someone in a state of homelessness. We see our tribe of cats viciously excluding her. It’s the innocent outsider, Victoria, who challenges the prejudice of the group. She shows that we are stronger when we are inclusive through the act of forgiveness, that when we include people on the margins of our society our society is stronger. So, at the center of this entertaining, fun, comedic, fantastical and transportive musical is a timely story about the importance of inclusion and community, forgiveness and redemption.”
Cats stars James Corden as Bustopher Jones, Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy, Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger, Idris Elba as Macavity, Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, Ian McKellen as Gus The Theatre Cat, Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots and introduces Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward in her feature film debut as Victoria.
In Philippine cinemas January 8, Cats is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.