If you reside in London, chances are you’ll have either seen James Bowen and his sidekick Bob, or at the very least will know someone who has. For the street busker became something of a sensation, roaming the streets of Central London – from Covent Garden to Islington – with an obedient, beautiful cat resting, for the most part, on his shoulders. This cinematic endeavour, helmed by Roger Spottiswoode tells this life-affirming story, based on the subject’s very own memoirs.
Luke Treadaway plays James, who moved to the UK from Australia as a teenager, only to find himself drawn into a life of squalor, becoming addicted to heroin and living on the streets. After yet another stint in hospital, support worker Val (Joanne Froggart) is willing to give the talented busker one last chance, and provides him with a flat of his own – and it’s there he meets Bob.
Our Interview with James Bowen & Bob the cat
The stray cat climbs into his new place, and is rather reluctant to leave again – and though unsure at first, James decides to keep the pet as his own, as a companion, but also as a means of making a living – for Bob garners much attention from passers by, and the busker finds crowds forming, as he begins to make some real money which helps to turn his life around. But it feels like the quiet before the storm, with his methadone programme nearing an end – and so he hopes to rely on the assistance of his neighbour, and love interest, Betty (Ruta Gedmintas).
A Street Cat Named Bob toes the line between mawkish and sincere sentimentality, carelessly falling into the former camp on occasion. It doesn’t help that James is portrayed as such a victim, and while an underdog narrative of this nature thrives in having a protagonist who doesn’t seem to ever have any luck, perhaps a more flawed, human portrayal of the lead would be beneficial in helping to form an emotional bond between the character and the viewer. If he’s late to a support meeting, it’s because he was busy at the vet caring for a sick animal. When struck off for a month from selling the Big Issue after doing business in someone else’s patch, again it doesn’t seem to be his fault – but a more engaging endeavour would revel in these mistakes and the character’s imperfections, rather than try and always blame someone else.
Our Luke Treadaway & Ruta Gedmintas Interview
It’s refreshing that we set this tale in a relatively short period of time, avoiding the temptation of featuring superfluous flashbacks, with James’ situation explained through conversation, proving we don’t always need an overt display of context, and sometimes we can figure it out for ourselves. The filmmaker’s inclination to shoot from Bob’s perspective, however, is somewhat less commendable, as an odd technique which doesn’t work in this situation. Thankfully, Treadaway’s performance is impressive, even if it did take a good third of the way through the movie before realising he was doing an Australian accent.
The real star of this show, however, is Bob. You only need to scroll through Facebook for five minutes to appreciate our love for felines, and this film serves up a healthy dose to appease filmgoers. Because, at the very least, and no matter how disengaged you may become with the narrative, there is always a really cute cat that will keep you occupied, as we, much like everyone who has ever encountered James and Bob on the streets, become smitten for this bloody kitten.