A Street Cat Named Bob
MY ex-colleague Peter Gruner, who worked for many years for the Islington Tribune, had noticed the Big Issue seller outside the Angel tube with a cat perched on his shoulders for a while. One day, he went up to him, got chatting, and wrote a piece about his life.
His heartwarming article was picked up by a literary agent, and the seller – James Bowen – and his cat Bob had their story made into a book. From there, global entertainment brand Sony picked it up and now we have the biopic of James and Bob’s adventures on the streets of London.
We meet James (Luke Treadway) as he busks in Covent Garden. He is addicted to heroin, he is homeless and his father wants nothing to do with him. A kindly social worker wriggles the system to get him a house on an estate – a horribly Daily Mail vision of what social housing is like, full of layabouts shouting abuse, drug dealers, burnt out cars and angry dogs – and then one day a stray Ginger Tom wanders in through an open window.
Playing himself, Bob, as James calls him, becomes his busking sidekick and the public’s love of animals means his takings rocket.
This is Disney meets Trainspotting, and even comes complete with an evil stepmother to boot.
At times it is horribly cheesy, with a simplistic approach to drug addiction, and a lame message about how if you are down and out, you need to pull up your socks and get on with things. We are supposed to cheer as James gets clean, finds love and writes a book, leaving the feckless work-shy losers behind.
For a film with what should be a heart-warming message, it can be unintentionally mean, too – this is amplified by a Scouse character who is a stereotype junkie who James is trying to escape. He doesn’t find a cat, so he’s worthless in the story’s eyes.
It is a shame, as James and his cat Bob have a message of redemption that is powerful if well told, and on a personal note, seeing an actor step up to James outside the Angel Tube, in archetypal reporter’s rain mac and say the words: “Hi, I’m Peter Gruner from the Islington Tribune, you’d make a nice human interest story...” reminds me of a colleague I had the pleasure of working alongside for many years and whose company I and my fellow reporters miss a lot.