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Karen Dotrice and Michael Garber appeared in three Disney movies together including Mary Poppins and The Gnome-Mobile. But, their first appearance together was in The Three Lives of Thomasina, the film of focus today. It is a masterpiece like Mary Poppins or more along the okay lines of The Gnome-Mobile? Let’s find out together!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the opening credits roll, we hear a surprisingly enjoyable song written by Terry Gilkyson, Thomasina. The song praises the titular character, Thomasina the cat, as well as cats, in general. The song surprised me because this film isn’t a musical, so I wasn’t expecting to hear a song, and such a good song too! I, at first thought it was written by the Sherman Brothers!
Once the credits are over, we see Thomasina sitting underneath a dining table belonging to her owners, the MacDhuis. Thomasina, voiced by Elspeth March, doesn’t speak by moving her mouth, but narrates her inner thoughts (similar to Garfield). She explains to us that she’s the reason the MacDhuis are the happy family that they are today.
But, that was only after she was murdered.
As Thomasina continues narrating to us via flashback, we discover that she was the pet cat of young Mary MacDhui, played by Karen Dotrice. The year is 1912 and Mary lives in a small Scottish village with her father and housekeeper. Her mother has died and her father, Andrew MacDhui, is all the family she has left. Mr. MacDhui, played by Patrick McGoohan, works as a veterinarian in his own personal surgery next door to their home. He’s a man of science and only looks at animals from a purely factual, non-emotional point of view. He has no qualms in telling his patients the truth when their animals are beyond the point of health and need to be “put to sleep”, so to speak.
This is apparent when one of Mary’s friends, young Geordie McNab, played by Matthew Garber, finds a frog who appears to have a broken leg. He takes the frog to Mr. MacDhui’s surgery at Mary’s behest, but Mr. MacDhui says that there’s nothing to be done for the frog and that nature is the only thing that can cure the frog. He instructs Geordie to take the frog back to where he found it.
Unsatisfied with this diagnosis, Geordie tells of his predicament to his older brother, Jamie, and friend, Hughie, played by Denis Gilmore and Vincent Winter, respectively. Soon, the conversation turns towards the topic of an old witch who lives in a nearby glen. Although all three are scared of going there, they dare each other to take Geordie’s frog there to see if she can cure it with her “magic”.
They head up to the glen and Geordie places his frog by a tree near the witch’s cottage and rings a bell nearby. He then hides in the bushes with Jamie and Hughie as they try to catch a glimpse of the witch. The witch comes out of the house and we see her for the first time!
She sees the frog there and even the kids hiding in the bushes. She decides to have a little fun with them and pretends to be a witch causing the kids to run away scared.
The kids rush back home and tell Mary about what happened and she in turn tells her father of the witch in the glen. Mr. MacDhui, of course, doesn’t believe this story and soon discovers the truth that the “witch” is a woman named Lori MacGregor, played by Susan Hampshire. She apparently doesn’t mix with other people and prefers to stay by herself in her cottage working on her looms and taking care of animals. She apparently has a way with animals as deer, goats, dogs, etc. all live together in harmony in/around her cottage.
Later that night, Mr. MacDhui puts Mary to bed and tells her that Thomasina can’t sleep with her. He puts the cat outside, but Thomasina just climbs up a tree that leads to the window of Mary’s bedroom, a trick she and Mary have been playing on Mr. MacDhui for a while now. But this particular night is Wednesday, the night before market day. Thomasina decides to head to the markets to be around the sellers setting up their stalls. However, she gets chased by a couple of dogs while there and falls off a tall tower of crates!
The next day, Mary tells her father that she can’t find Thomasina anywhere and Mary and her friends head out to look for her. They soon find her at the marketplace, but she’s terribly stiff and seemingly lifeless. They decide to take Thomasina to Mr. MacDhui to see if he can do anything to cure Thomasina.
Meanwhile, an accident has happened in front of Mr. MacDhui’s surgery where a blind man’s guide dog, Bruce, has been hit by a motorcar. Mr. MacDhui immediately goes to work on saving Bruce. While he’s working on Bruce’s surgery, Mary barges in with Thomasina demanding that her dad look at the cat. Mr. MacDhui tries to explain that he’s busy, but after a while, he takes the cat and agrees to look at her when he gets the chance so that Mary and the other kids can leave him alone. But as he looks at the cat, he sees that Thomasina has tetanus and is beyond help and needs to be…”taken care of”. He sends his assistant to do that while he further works on Bruce.
Fortunately, Mr. MacDhui succeeds in saving Bruce. But, he has a harder time trying to explain to Mary that Thomasina was poisoned and could spread the disease to other animals so she had to be…”taken care of”. Mary takes this incredibly hard as you can imagine. She’s upset that her father didn’t save Thomasina and accuses him of killing her cat!
Not long after we get an incredibly weird, mystical scene of Thomasina in the “afterlife”. It’s…well, it’s probably better to show you.
After that whole segment, we see Thomasina’s body in a small basket used as a coffin. Mary and her friends have decided to give a proper funeral for Thomasina and walk their funeral procession all throughout the town. Once they get to the countryside, Hughie starts to deliver a eulogy before they bury the cat once and for all.
But, Lori happens to be nearby and when the kids see her, they run away frightened. Lori sees Thomasina and realizes that Thomasina isn’t really dead; she has a faint heartbeat. So, Lori takes Thomasina back to her cottage with her to nurse her back to health.
Back home, Mary has grown cold towards her father insisting that she has no father and that she killed him.
Also upset that Mr. MacDhui didn’t do anything to save Thomasina, Mary’s friends (after hearing talk from some of the elders in the village) decide to influence the townspeople’s minds to be untrustworthy of Mr. MacDhui as a vet and have him driven out of town. And as is common in small villages, the townspeople start believing these rumors which of course affects Mr. MacDhui’s profession. Some of them even start taking their animals to Lori to get cured.
When Mr. MacDhui hears of this, he decides to pay a visit to Lori. When he gets there, he sees her trying to deal with a badger who got his foot caught in a trap. Mr. MacDhui warns her that the badger will attack her and at first, the two of them argue about that. But after a while, they learn to work together and take care of the badger together. Mr. MacDhui sees how Lori treats animals with love, kindness, and giving them a place where they’re not afraid.
This leads to Mr. MacDhui continuing to make trips to the cottage to see Lori and help her with her animal affairs. As they spend more time together, they start to bond and share more about themselves with each other. Mr. MacDhui tells Lori how when he lost his wife, he also lost his faith in God. Lori tells Mr. MacDhui that she saw both of her parents drown, but that didn’t diminish her faith in God.
While all this goes on, Thomasina, who has been nursed back to health, watches from afar. She doesn’t have any memory of her “past life”, but she feels that she knows Mr. MacDhui somehow.
Meanwhile, Mary is still in a numb shock regarding her lost Thomasina despite her father’s efforts to get her to cheer up or to replace her lost pet. One day Thomasina gets an urge to head into town and her instincts take her up the tree near Mary’s bedroom. When Mary sees her, she calls out for her and runs into the rainy, dark streets below to find her although Thomasina has run off by now. Mr. MacDhui rushes to retrieve Mary who has since collapsed due to sickness and depression in the streets. As Mary’s situation worsens and she contracts pneumonia, Mr. MacDhui does all he can to cure her: calling the doctor and even praying to God again.
One day, some gypsies arrive at a meadow near the town. They have a sort of travelling circus, but they mistreat and abuse their animals. When Mary’s friends witness this, they try to inform Mr. MacDhui about the animals (despite having tried getting him run out of town in the first place) who promises that he’ll take a look at the situation when he can (as Mary’s condition is his primary concern right now). Misinterpreting this for not caring about the animals, the boys rush to Lori and inform her of the goings-on and she heads to the gypsy circus to put an end to the animal cruelty.
As Mary’s condition worsens further, Mr. MacDhui decides to bring Lori to see Mary hoping she can do something to help heal her. But, she’s at the circus when he goes to pick her up at the cottage. When he gets to the circus, he sees the gypsies attacking Lori, so he steps in and fights them off. This leads to a huge fracas, the tents catching fire, and everybody fleeing the scene.
Once the fire is put out and everything is taken care of there, Mr. MacDhui convinces Lori to come back with him to his house to see Mary. Thomasina, meanwhile, finally gets her memory back (just kinda automatically with no real explanation) and rushes to the MacDhuis’ house. She goes up to the window and starts mewing which causes Mary to wake up from her unconsciousness. Mr. MacDhui is shocked to see Thomasina alive and Lori is shocked to discover that Thomasina was Mary’s cat all along. Mr. MacDhui tries to beckon Thomasina into the house. Thomasina recognizes Mr. MacDhui as her “murderer” from her first life, but her “second life” with Lori taught her compassion, so she doesn’t want revenge. So, she enters the house into Mr. MacDhui’s arms.
Mr. MacDhui then delivers Thomasina to Mary. Because of this, Mary regains her health and love for her father, Mr. MacDhui and Lori get married, and the three live together in happiness in Mr. MacDhui’s house just as we saw in the beginning of the film.
And that was The Three Lives of Thomasina and honestly, this is quite an underrated gem! There are so many deep themes in this movie from belief in God during difficult times and holding on to faith to being labeled by people (like being labeled a “witch” or an “animal murderer”) to how people can see the same things differently. For example, Mr. MacDhui sees animals as part of his job to cure and heal them if he can. Lori, on the other hand, sees animals as precious, kindly beings and cures and heals them out of love. The gypsies see animals as their performing moneymakers and don’t care how they treat them just as long as they’re able to make them money.
The acting is incredibly good especially that of Patrick McGoohan and doubly especially that of Karen Dotrice! The filmmakers knew what they were talking about when they said that they saw something in her in this movie which led to her being cast in Mary Poppins afterwards!
The only big gripe/flaw that I have about this movie is that the character of Thomasina is such a MacGuffin! She honestly just exists for the rest of the story to exist. She’s only a tool for Mary to get depressed, shocked, and hateful of her father and a reason to get her to like her father again. Other than that, Thomasina isn’t in the film all that much. She’s so much of a MacGuffin that when she remembers her past life, it honestly just comes out of the blue! She sees lightning strike a tree and says that just as quickly as lightning striking a tree, her memory came back! Had the character of Thomasina not appeared in the movie, the writers could have still told us this story through some other method or at least through another MacGuffin that was written better!
But it’s a small gripe. I assume most of you have not seen this film; I myself hadn’t seen it before now. But, I encourage you all to check it out at once!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 34/35 = 97.14% (A+) !
The next review will be posted on August 7, 2017.