Take a busker struggling to go completely clean from his heroin addiction and add a stray ginger cat to the mix, and you have the recipe for one of the most watchable films of the year.
Luke Treadaway is superb as James Bowen in this extraordinary true story that is sure to be a hit for cinema and cat lovers. Based on the international best-seller, A Streetcat Named Bob, the film follows Bowen, an ex-heroin addict struggling to become clean who is completely lost on the mean streets of London. After relapsing and being given one final chance by his support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt), he is moved into council housing in an attempt to truly conquer his addiction. After breaking down at the thought of having hot water and treating himself to bath, Bowen’s life takes an expected turn when a stray ginger cat, Bob, moves into his apartment. Through Bob, James finally finds what he was dearly missing in life, and one of cinema’s most unusual friendships unravels.
The performances are fantastic, the story is beautiful, and the way it’s shot is so brilliantly done. Treadaway’s performance is mature and wonderful, managing to portray Bowen’s character with the existentialism, comedy, and sincerity required to play a homeless busker with exemplary morals. In one of the opening scenes of the film, James is just a couple of pence short to buy a much-needed burger, his heartfelt pleas to the miserable shop owner are the exact opposite of shouty and loud, and resonate more with the audience when he finally takes no for an answer and leaves the shop empty handed.
Similarly after an unexpected meeting with his Dad, played brilliantly by Anthony Head, he is given £20 to look after himself, but once Bob returns to the flat whimpering with his leg covered in blood, he selflessly hands over the £20 to make sure Bob is given the treatment he requires. The thing that stuck with me most about Treadaway’s performance is that he solidifies the idea and old saying that ‘homelessness can happen to anyone,’ and for a young actor to have pulled that off with such a credible performance is exceptional.
As mentioned, Antony Head gives a great supporting performance as Bowen’s Dad and Joanne Froggatt’s Val is straight to the point, yet caring which is vital for a character that essentially puts James on the first steps of the road to recovery. Ruda Gedmintas also gives a fantastic performance as Belle, Bowen’s animal loving, vegan, and free-spirited neighbour who helps look after Bob and strikes up a loving relationship with James and his feline companion. Gedmintas’ performance is so spot on, that when watching her you will probably be reminded of one or two of your anti-establishment friends and her portrayal of Belle is just one of the charming compositions of the film.
If the story itself isn’t enough to at least catch your interest, I’m sure the way it is shot will be. There are so many beautiful shots in this film it’s almost like a love letter to London which threatens to have a tragic ending. From the scenes of Bowen busking at Covent Garden in the run-up to Christmas, to selling The Big Issue outside Angel Station, to riding his bike with Bob sat in the basket as they cycle past Tower Bridge, these shots just provide such a lovely and homely feel to the film which perfectly contradicts the scary and unforgiving feel that you’re thrown into at the beginning and also when Bowen decides to go cold turkey and refrain from substituting heroin with methadone.
The dark and damp settings of Bowen’s council estate home really play their part in these well-executed scenes. The shots of Bob immediately put a smile on my face. It’s not just ‘and cut to a close-up of the cat’ – you get a real sense of who Bob is, his personality and how important he is becoming to Bowen. There are a lovely couple of minutes in the film where a plucky mouse decides to try his luck in Bowen’s new home. Bob, being a cat, obviously has an issue with this, and so treats the audience to an actual game of cat and mouse. It’s not gimmicky, and it’s not over the top, but it’s fun for the audience and allows us to look at Bob not as a ‘supercat’ that’s been brought to Earth to save this man, but as a very real cat who’s found exactly what he needed; love, just like Bowen.
I loved this film. When you consider how director Roger Spottiswoode has managed to stretch out an incredibly thin sounding plot and turned it into a fun and emotional feature, I think it’s a welcome reminder that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make an ‘interesting’ film. Spottiswoode has provided us with a family drama that touches upon the serious issues of drug addiction, homelessness, and love. And one bloody adorable ginger cat.
A Streetcat Named Bob released nationwide on Friday 4th November.