thu 18/07/2024

The Secret Life of the Cat, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Secret Life of the Cat, BBC Two

The Secret Life of the Cat, BBC Two

A television treat to watch a village's felines walking on the (not very) wild side

Kato, senior feline of Shamley Green: will he be retaining an agent after all these press pictures?Alex Ranken/BBC

It’s been quite a week for surveillance. And no, that doesn’t mean the NSA and whatever’s happening in Hong Kong. You can bet the week's viewing figures that the majority of Britain’s households, particularly those in the triple-F category – meaning, feline-focused families – will have been more preoccupied with Horizon’s investigation into what exactly goes on when that flap goes up, The Secret Life of the Cat.

It wasn’t just a chance for viewers to go soppy about the character of their favourite felines: for that, there’s the internet, where cat home movies get the all-time top YouTube scores. This was a fully scientific investigation with two of the country’s top animal biologists, Drs John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis (pictured below, with Professor Alan Wilson, right, of the Royal Veterinary Society), using equipment of the kind tested before on the cheetahs of Botswana no less, to chart the roaming habits, and thus create miniature diaries (tune in to Friday night's follow-up to watch those Little Cat Diaries) for a week in the lives of 50 cats. Some of the lucky four-legged stars even got their own catcams to film proceedings: nice to know what the BBC’s R&D team can rise to when needs must.

The setting being the comfortable Surrey village of Shamley Green, excursions into the great outdoors turned out to be as much for diversion as to sate the appetite. It felt somehow as if we’d been let in on a rather shabby secret to see that some outings went no further than a neighbouring cat-flap (the sort of thing that would have looked lovely with silent film intertitles, “Claude lunches next door”). Cue nicely bathetic music as the experiment itself began: with everything rolling, half a day passed with virtually no activity at all, at least until rain stopped and play started. A jazz medley when we saw the first cat's-eye view pictures from the catcams coming through worked a treat, too.

You might have been forgiven for thinking that the villagers themselves were the most worked up about proceedings: when asked to collect any remains of the week's kills (“just an eyeball left”), they did their best, the Tupperware coming in handy. Whoever wrote narrator Kelly Hunter’s script surely slipped up in suggesting these cats were being “recruited” – they must have been pressganged as firmly as the child geniuses of another of this week’s taking-part shows. Any self-respecting Macavity would have been over the fields and far away before you could even mention “consent form”. Which would have looked beautiful in slow-mo, because, as we saw here, for sheer grace of movement the cat family does remain unsurpassed.

It all gave rise to a remarkably peaceful picture. Stand-offs were rare, even with what Ginger was getting up to in his secret life (night-time raids across the field, his sizeable whiskers lurching around his night-vision screen). Local opponents Kato (main picture) and Phoebe avoided conflict mainly because they time-shifted their shared territory (like time-sharing, only by day and night). Unfortunately the camera dropped off when the only moment of potential gore, the plundering of a bird’s nest, came up. Of intime, not a peek.

This feeling of feline felicitude reached a climax over at the Edwards household, where six unrelated cats were breaking new ground in establishing cat camaraderie, the implicit result, we were told, of their species moving from its traditional hunter past to an increasingly (very) domestic present. Learning to pass over on the conflict front when offered such comfort and plenty? How felinely wise. Helen Sage's film didn't labour its points: instead it simply gave an hour's delight, surely evoking a purr in plenty of viewers – though one of the "solicitation" kind. In other words, it left us wanting more.

Some of the lucky four-legged stars even got their own catcams to film proceedings


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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