Monday 14 November 2016

A Street Cat Named Bob

Cat Man and Bob In,
Feline Groovy

A Street Cat Named Bob
UK 2016 Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
UK Cinema release print.

Yeah, I know. This is not exactly the kind of movie my regular readers would expect to see me covering here. In my defence, there’s a good reason why I made the trip to the cinema for this one and it’s this...

I’ve been riding the buses to and from work for something like 24 years now. Over the last six years or so there’s been this old man on the bus who I see most nights on the journey home. He is pretty friendly and he has a set pattern where he uses his free bus pass to travel back and forth between Enfield and Waltham Cross to... simply... pass the time of day at a local betting shop and to get his dinner in one of the local supermarkets. He has absolutely no way of contacting anyone if in trouble and, since retirement isn’t always the game people seem to think it can be, he has nothing to keep him on the pulse of what’s happening other than what he sees in borrowed newspapers or hears on his trusty, pocket radio. He has no TV. He has no computer. He has no mobile phone. He lives with nobody else. And that’s his life.

Over the years I’ve got to know him on those bus  journeys and would now call him a friend... even exchanging Christmas cards at the end of the year. One of the things he does do is to occasionally buy a second hand book from a charity stall in the local market and that gives him a lot of pleasure, even if he takes a fair number of months to read each one. He’s mostly into thrillers but, one day, he bought the true life memoirs called A Street Cat Named Bob, on which this movie is obviously based. He was really into the book and was telling me all about it a lot last year.

Well, I’m not one to not know a rare opportunity to get this guy out for ‘a trip’ one evening and when I read a few months ago that this movie had been made, I arranged to take him to see it when it came out... seeing as the last time he’d been to the cinema was 30 years ago for Top Gun (a film I’ve never seen), even though he’d loved the cinema in his former, pre-retirement life. Alas, the first week of release of this movie saw me off work for a week, completely incapacitated with a crippling and painful condition and with absolutely no way of reaching this guy, seeing as he’s so cut off from the world. Luckily the movie was still playing a week later (not a guarantee these days, even with multi screen cinemas) and so off we went. So yeah, that’s the reason why I went to see this movie... so don’t judge me on this one. 

So what’s the film like? Well, helmed by the director of the quite respectable Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies (reviewed here) it’s actually not the over romanticised, dumbed down film I was imagining this to be. I haven’t read the book by James Bowen, who is played by Luke Treadaway in this... but I’m reliably informed by my ‘bus friend’ that the film is very close to the book. It’s actually got an edge to it which, really, I should have expected since it deals with the real life plight of a homeless man on the streets of London and the trials and opportunities that happen for him after he adopts a stray cat, the titular character, Bob. Or should I say, since cats are the creatures they are, the cat adopts him. It turns out, too, that although a fair few cats were playing Bob throughout the movie... the real life Bob The Cat is actually playing himself on screen for a lot of the time. Wow... this cat lives up to his fame.

James advances his way up from the streets and Bob the cat helps him by getting him attention, perched on his shoulders as he goes from busker to Big Issue seller, gets himself off the methadone which was getting him off drugs, tries to reignite his relationship with his estranged father (played by Anthony Head) and even strikes up a touching relationship with a neighbour, Belle (played by Ruta Gedmintas) when he is in a council flat. We are witness to a really amazing story which almost takes you by stealth but which is a testament to both human misery and the slow pull of human kindness which plays out in everyones life. Dare I say there were a few tears in my eye at various points in the movie? There’s even an appearance or two by Ruth Sheen, who some people may remember from her collaborations with director Mike Leigh... it’s always a treat to see her in something.

One of the things I wasn’t expecting Spottiswoode to do at varied points in the movie was to suddenly shift the camera to a POV shot from Bob’s viewpoint. The first couple of times the director does this in the film it’s actually a little jarring but, as your brain learns to adapt to these sudden shifts from 3rd person to 1st person point of view, you start to get used to the visual vocabulary and begin to adapt to the sudden shifts in a way which makes it quite watchable and, although I could have done without it, it probably does enhance certain scenes in some ways. I know my friend got a kick out of these kinds of sequences where Bob is worried by a mouse... another cohabitor of James’ council home. Actually, is a cat a person? Maybe that should be ‘1st Feline POV’ in the case of this movie.

The film has a little more substance and certainly a lot more heart than I was expecting. It never gets too dark but there are a few moments in there when an old acquaintance of James is in trouble at one point or when James finally kicks the habit for good, which are certainly why this film was awarded a 12 certificate, I think. And, despite the Feline’s eye view moments, the film hangs together pretty well and takes you to a point presumably just after the end of the original book, where we begin to see the success that James and Bob finally acquire and it makes for a neat ending.

The music is quite good too. The score by David Hirschfelder is appropriately light but glues the visuals together fairly well and it really comes into its own during the darker passages of the movie. What really surprised me, though, is that some of the songs are also quite engaging when James is out busking and trying to get enough change to be able to buy some food for the day. One in particular, Satellite Moments, is particularly catchy and almost serves as an anthem for the film. Sure, it’s kinda syrupy but, you know, that’s okay because the lyrics also rang true and I’m even contemplating grabbing the CD of this one at some point on the strength of it.

And that’s my last meow on A Street Cat Named Bob. It’s not for everyone but it’s one of those kinds of movies that British cinema does best... making a charming, feel good movie which offers real insight in a way that doesn’t become too overwhelmingly fairy tale and which makes you think on after the final credits roll. The final credits also serve as a reminder of the way people are forced to live by showing us photos of the real James Bowen from the times depicted in this movie and, obviously, his original best seller. He also turns up as a fan of his fictional counterpart in a cameo near the end. At the end of the day, though, I really wasn’t worried whether I was going to like this movie or not. What was important to me was that my friend from the bus got to go to the cinema for the first time in 30 years and that he ‘really’ enjoyed the movie...and that’s what mattered here. So please, if you’re thinking of catching this one anytime soon, take a hard recommendation from my friend. He should know... he’s read the book.


  1. This is just the best story and has made my day. What a dude you are.

    1. Ha! Thanks... I think. Glad you liked it and much thanks for reading young lady.