A Christmas Gift From Bob

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

A Christmas Gift From Bob
"This is – apologies for the politics – an essentially Panglossian, Whiggish sort of film." | Photo: Lionsgate

Pure schmaltz. As sweet and sickly as the icing on an over-iced Christmas cake. Yep, a Christmas Gift From Bob has landed. It comes with a cloying mix of feelgood and morality tail, as it delivers peace on earth and goodwill to all cats. Not forgetting the cute Santa suit that Bob, the silent, brooding hero of the story gets to wear while out busking in Covent Garden.

OK. Rewind. A Christmas Gift is follow-up to A Street Cat Named Bob. That film, aside from a little light dusting with sentiment to make it a bit more palatable to the regular cinema audience, was a sharp, insightful look at the underbelly of London, as seen from the perspective of the street. It was a warm and, in essence, true retelling of how homeless and drug-addicted James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) found salvation through adopting a charming ginger mog, Bob (played by himself).

Copy picture

Because James not only busks to get by. He also writes. And by one of those strange quirks of fate, his scribbling about Bob came to the attention of a publisher. Bob became famous. James, who was already on his way to putting his life back together off the street, became more affluent.

Great stuff all round! And, by virtue of its origins in real life, A Street Cat Named Bob succeeded in achieving the seemingly unachievable - engaging a largely apolitical audience in the issues of homelessness and how the UK treats those who, for whatever reason, have fallen through the safety net.

Not exactly Ken Loach. But it connected.

So after the success of the book, and the film, what next? The obvious answer is the correct one and a couple more books followed. A Christmas Gift from Bob, on which this film is roughly based, and the World According to Bob, which seems to be a collection of homespun wisdom repackaged with a feline endorsement. And, of course, there must be another film.

What we have here begins in the present day, with James looking seriously out of place and nervous at a literary reception. There he is accosted by Jacqueline Wilson (yes: THAT Jacqueline Wilson, who, with her second film appearance this year, after Four Kids And It, seems to have a taste for the acting lifestyle!). Wilson acknowledges, with writerly nudge and a wink that she can diagnose the source of his present ills, to wit, he has a deadline to meet and has not started writing.

Then it is back on to the street where James, now rather more elevated in the social pecking order, is able to rescue a homeless youth from a certain amount of police brutality. Then, treating said rescuee to some food and a warm drink, we are into flashback mode. Or rather, as the lad appears disinclined to stay, James assures him there will be “no preaching” and he only need stay for five minutes…before launching into his feline parable that occupies the best part of 75 minutes onscreen.

That, we believe, is known as artistic license.

Of course, it has to be flashback, given James’ relative affluence today: after all, where’s the feelgood in that. So James describes a very traditional arc: getting back on his feet; loads and loads of bad things happening; about to give up; and finally, saved by the generosity of good people, of which there are apparently just oodles to go round.

And that includes the ultimate saviour, celeb chef Arabella (Anna Wilson-Jones), who rides to the rescue when James is targeted by an evil official (Stuart Whelan), determined to separate him from his cat. The precise nature of this official’s role was unclear, as he seems to occupy a role somewhere between bad cop and cat catcher. He spends a lot of time, for a police officer, concerned with cat welfare. On the other hand, RSPCA officials are not known for knocking people to the ground and putting them in a headlock. Either way, his depiction is of an awful jobsworth increasingly channelled Blakey of On the Buses fame.

This is – apologies for the politics – an essentially Panglossian, Whiggish sort of film. Bad things may happen but in the end everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Social ills? Sure, we have a few. But all it takes are for some good people – or cats! – to step up to the plate and hey presto! Sorted. Yes, we end on Christmas. And Yes, a most unseasonal sprinkling of snow is falling over Covent Garden as we move towards the triumphant exit.

In the hands of director Charles Martin Smith, this is a slighter, less sharp film than its predecessor (directed by Roger Spottiswoode). Still, the social commentary has not entirely vanished.

Also, you get Bob. And, here, I must confess, as a confirmed Crazy Cat Lady, that I will watch almost anything that includes cat. Especially a cat with personality, as Bob. So the schmaltz and the sugar-coating are forgiven.

Sadly, this will be the last film about Bob proper, as the original ginger lad succumbed to a car accident earlier this year. But perhaps there will be room yet for a sequel, as Bob has left behind two kitten progeny to continue the good work.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2020
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A Christmas Gift From Bob packshot
James looks back at the last Christmas he and Bob spent scraping a living on the streets and how Bob helped him through it.

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