FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES (2017)
Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore
Before Disney swept up everyone’s favourite honey-guzzling bear, there was A.A. Milne – the creator of Winnie the Pooh.
Goodbye Christopher Robin charts the story of how the world’s most popular cuddly Ursidae came to be, along with his buddies Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Owl. It also touches on Milne’s PTSD following service in World War I and the effect the sudden new-found fame had on his family and, most importantly, his young son and star of the stories, Christopher Robin Milne.
Struggling to adapt to normality after the horrors of the Somme and World War I, A.A. Milne (Gleeson), or ‘Blue’ to friends and family, upsticks from London to the countryside of Sussex with his none-too-pleased socialite wife Daphne (Robbie) in an attempt to rekindle his writing flame and pen a tome to the futility of war. The arrival of baby Christopher Robin Milne (Tilston) in an attempt to mend bridges caused further strain on the family, and the deed of raising the child was bestowed upon incoming nanny Olive (Macdonald). With a wife now residing in London and a young son to raise, Milne can find no solace. Upon letting his son closer into his life, Milne and Christopher find great fun in larking about in the large (one hundred acres) woodland surrounding the property, especially with the aid of Christopher’s collection of stuffed toys – including a golden bear. Inspiration wallops Milne and, with the help of his illustrator friend and wartime colleague Ernest (Moore), begins to create stories surrounding the adventures of (now named) Winnie the Pooh and his band of friends. As these tales reach astronomical heights of popularity worldwide, Daphne returns to Milne as the clamour to know more about the real-life Christopher Robin intensifies and the legend of Winnie the Pooh was born – but to the real Christopher Robin, it was nothing more than a horrendous lifelong burden.
Packed with plenty of childhood nostalgia, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a movie torn between breezy and bleak. Mixing in wartime images and themes, plus a light layer of neglect and bitterness gives the movie a heavier presence than initially expected. I wasn’t anticipating that Domhnall Gleeson would parade about dressed as a bear that’s all jumper and no pants, but there was a ‘darker’ element that the sepia-drenched advertising didn’t really touch upon.
A.A. Milne is played well with a vintage English prickliness by Domhnall Gleeson, complete with requisite stiff-upper-lip and plenty of Brylcreem. Channelling his Star Wars character of General Hux at times, the brittle exterior of Milne is portrayed well alongside the repressed softness of the man. Young Will Tilston in his debut role as Christopher Robin displays huge dimples and a generally sweet façade, but his performance was wobbly at times. The talents of Margot Robbie are wholly underserved by the story, her character relegated to a mere villainous role and her appearance is distracting amidst the tweed setting.
The movie works best when it’s more ‘joyful’. The scenes in the woodlands with Milne and Christopher (and occasionally Ernest) making stories with the toys, bursting copious red balloons and playing the great ‘pooh sticks’ river game are the highlights and there’s a strange feeling of nostalgia that sweeps from the screen – whether you’re a Pooh fan or not. It’s lovely to see the old cuddly gang together and also the story of how they came to be. Don’t get too worked up beforehand, the name explanations are fairly brief and simple. It all leads to an emotional final act, full of sadness, resentment, redemption (sort of) and also a certain degree of ambiguity, which brings the movie full circle from its intro scene.
There are certain omissions in the movie from Milne’s real life, specifically regarding his stance on war as World War II loomed on the horizon and the family aftermath isn’t fully delved into during the closing credits appendices. Whilst not entirely necessary depending on what you took from the movie – the creation of Winnie the Pooh or a biopic on Milne –that final exposition may have afforded greater weight to the heavier scenes, some of which didn’t land as maybe the director would have planned.
Younger fans of Winnie the Pooh may not find an awful lot to enjoy with Goodbye Christopher Robin, sure there are lighter moments and seeing the steps took to bring the stories to life will be interesting for the smaller ones, however, this movie is aimed at a more mature audience (despite its PG rating). The themes of war, struggles, stress, depression and failure are all prevalent and at times are at odds with the (wonderful) moments of levity. If you’re after a solid drama, with the added bonus of its subject’s popularity and possible nostalgic memories, then Goodbye Christopher Robin will surely satiate your needs.
January 7th 2018