A Street Cat Named Bob review

By Greg Hill-Turner 

For anyone not living around Camden Town half a decade ago, the first time you might have heard of former heroin addict James Bowen and his effortlessly loyal, absurdly adorable feline friend was likely the 2012 best-seller based on their heart-warming story of salvation on the streets. The film traces the genesis of these now inseparable friends, who may well have saved each other from the harshest of realities presented by poverty in modern Britain. This is a timely, lightly whimsical and utterly charming crowd-pleaser with more on its mind, and tougher subject matter, than appearances may suggest.

We join Bowen, played with an affable determination by the relatively unknown Luke Treadaway, on the precipice of his own self-destruction; busking for short change, searching bins for his next meal and in desperate need of the companionship he’s been denied his whole life. This comes in two distinct, though equally beguiling forms: the titular stray and Bowen’s new, manically kooky neighbour Betty (Ruta Gedmintas, a deeply empathetic screen presence). With the help of these two unlikely partners, alongside his reliably snarky therapist (Downtown star Joanne Froggart, stealing every available scene), James slowly begins to put the pieces back together. Will he finally kick the habit that’s plagued him his entire adult life? Could Betty provide a romantic foil against their shared hardship? Avid book club-goers, or British feel-good connoisseurs, surely know the answers, but that does little to diminish the emotionally rich journey on which director Roger Spottiswoode effortlessly guides his audience.

Spottiswoode frames the backstreets of London with a naturalistic grit, refusing to shy away from his story’s more troubling aspects, yet never forgets to craft the kind of engaging, ultimately uplifting picture so beloved by local film societies. Neat visual touches include several key sequences shot from Bob’s ground’s-eye perspective, ensuring his story retains parallel importance to his self-appointed owner. Bob, who bravely opts to play himself on-screen, can add formidable acting force to his already extensive resume. Between Spottiswoode’s smart direction and the creature’s natural charisma, Bob emerges as a fully-rounded personality capable of expressing equal range as the star-studded cast. Chances are audiences here for his antics will leave more than satisfied, Bob’s turn instantly earning a place among the finest animal performances in recent memory.

The film belongs to Treadaway, though, who imbues James with impressive fortitude to imply a long-formulated emotional barrier he’s desperate to fell. The film never looks down on James and his plight, and Treadaway’s humanistic turn is certainly the essential ingredient to the success of the piece as a whole. Capable support is provided by British heavyweights Anthony Head as James’ formerly absent father and Ruth Sheen as a somewhat overzealous fan.

A Street Cat Named Bob avidly refuses to break new ground, content to serve its primary function as a touching, undeniably effective piece of pop entertainment. Sometimes simple really is best.