The Three Lives of Thomasina

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The Three Lives of Thomasina
Directed by Don Chaffey
Produced by Walt Disney (uncredited)
Associate Producer:
Hugh Attwooll
Written by Robert Westerby
Paul Gallico (Novel)
Starring Patrick McGoohan
Karen Dotrice
Susan Hampshire
Matthew Garber
Narrated by Elspeth March
Music by Paul J. Smith
Cinematography Paul Beeson
Edited by Gordon Stone
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
December 11, 1963 (1963-12-11)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $2,250,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

The Three Lives of Thomasina is a 1963 British magical realist film starring Patrick McGoohan, Susan Hampshire, and child actress Karen Dotrice in a story about a cat and her influence on a family. The screenplay was written by Robert Westerby and Paul Gallico and was based upon Gallico's 1957 novel Thomasina, the Cat Who Thought She Was God. The film was directed by Don Chaffey, and shot in Inveraray, Argyll, Scotland, and Pinewood Studios, England. Thomasina has been broadcast on television and released to VHS and DVD.

Plot and cast[edit]

Set in the town of Inveranoch, Scotland in 1912, the story centres on Andrew MacDhui (Patrick McGoohan) a coldly-scientific, atheist veterinarian, his seven-year-old daughter Mary (Karen Dotrice), and her cat Thomasina (voiced by Elspeth March), who narrates the movie. (Thomasina was originally called "Thomas" by her adoptive family. She explains that they amended her name "when they, well, got to know me better.")

Mr. MacDhui is a widower. His wife's death killed his belief in God, as well as his empathy for others. He has little sympathy for pets, preferring "useful" animals such as hard-working farm beasts and the blind man Tammas' guide dog, Bruce.

One night Thomasina is chased by dogs in the marketplace, falls from some boxes and sustains an injury. Mary and her friends find Thomasina the following day. Meanwhile, Mr. MacDhui is operating on Bruce (who had been struck by a car). The doctor is interrupted during the surgery by his daughter, begging him to help her cat. He sees that Thomasina's muscles are stiff and diagnoses tetanus.

Although tetanus is treatable and even if untreated is fatal only 73% of the time,[2] Mr. MacDhui, as with other pets brought to him in similar situations, considers it easier to simply have the cat euthanized. He orders his assistant Willie Bannock (Wilfrid Brambell) to put Thomasina to sleep.

Mary is completely shattered by Thomasina's death, and loses faith in her father, who had promised to save her cat. She becomes emotionally cold to Mr. MacDhui and declares her father dead, refusing to speak to or look at him.

Meanwhile, Thomasina goes to "cat heaven" in a surrealistic scene where cats who have used all of their nine lives are transformed into Siamese and live with the Egyptian cat-god Bastet for eternity. But Thomasina has lived only once, and so she is returned to her body alive but in a coma.

Mary and her playmates Hughie Stirling (Vincent Winter), and Jamie and Geordie McNab (Denis Gilmore and Matthew Garber) and other friends give Thomasina a funeral. They take her out to the glen beyond the town, but are (unintentionally) frightened away by "Mad Lori" MacGregor (Susan Hampshire), a beautiful kindhearted young woman who lives in the glen and was attracted by the children's singing and bagpipe playing. The children believe she is a witch, one reason being that she seems to have a magic power to calm and cure animals. Lori brings Thomasina back to her makeshift animal hospital, but although the cat recovers she has no memory of her "First Life" with Mary. Thus begins her second life.

Lori doesn't have the surgical skill needed to repair a wounded badger that she finds in a trap, and asks God to give her help. Immediately after that, Mr. MacDhui comes to give her a piece of his mind because the children have told the townspeople to boycott his practice and to bring their sick pets to her instead. Discovering the injured animal, he treats the badger's wound as Lori watches in amazement.

Lori (and later, Mr. MacDhui) realize that they each have half of what is needed to treat sick animals. He has the science and surgery, and she has the power of love. They start to bond emotionally when their attempt to shut down a travelling circus results in a fight with its gypsy proprietors who had been physically abusing their performing animals.

Meanwhile, Thomasina's memory is slowly returning. She realizes she misses something very important, but she doesn't know what. She remembers the way back home, but doesn't recognize Mary, who chases her into a rainstorm. Thomasina returns to the safety of Lori's cabin in the woods, but Mary contracts pneumonia after Mr. MacDhui finds her lying on the street in the rain.

Mr. MacDhui prays for the first time in four years that God will somehow cure his daughter. Off in the glen, a lightning bolt (which may be a miracle from God) strikes a tree next to Thomasina and her memory is suddenly restored. Lori comes to the house, as Thomasina does, who is the only one able to save Mary as she has lost the will to live. However the cat sees Mr. MacDhui (who had her killed) and refuses to enter through the window despite Mr. MacDhui's pleasure.

At this point, Thomasina realizes that she could get revenge on Mr. MacDhui by not entering, but (she tells us as the narrator), Lori's love has changed her, and she no longer desires revenge.

Mr. MacDhui places Thomasina in Mary's arms, thereby restoring Thomasina to Mary, Mary's life, and Mary's love for her father.

Lori's love has changed Mr. MacDhui, and they are soon married, making the perfect veterinary team. Thomasina now begins her "Third Life" with all of them together.[3]


In a pre-release review, Howard Thompson of The New York Times (12 December 1963) found the film "a nice one, but...far from top-drawer Disney." He thought it was a "sentimental and extremely genteel little suited for small girls," but praised the major performers (including the cat) and the settings. He concluded by describing the film as "mighty, mighty cosy."[4] Film critic Leonard Maltin (in his book The Disney Films) on the other hand, refers to this film very highly; calling it "delicate and charming", and very deserving of a larger audience if ever reissued. One scene in particular that he highly praised, was Thomasina's trip to Cat Heaven, calling it: "a wondrous piece of movie magic". In another article written by Maltin, he includes this film title among the lesser known gems of Disney Movies, (along with other film titles like Darby O'Gill and the Little People). Maltin also said Dotrice "won over everyone" with her performance in Thomasina, and she (and fellow cast member Matthew Garber) were signed to play the Banks children in the Disney film Mary Poppins.[5]

Cultural references[edit]

  • In Grant Morrison's comic book The Invisibles, the character Mason Lang makes the claim that the movie The Three Lives of Thomasina "explains 'Everything'". He is later given a statue of the goddess Bast by Lady Edith Manning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. ^ ""Tetanus" (PDF), CDC. Retrieved 2007-01-26
  3. ^ Paul Gallico, Thomasina, the Cat who Thought She was a God (1957) and, of course, the film itself
  4. ^ New York Times: Thomasina
  5. ^ "Karen Dotrice: Disney Legends, Film, Television". Retrieved 7 August 2004. 

External links[edit]