GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (UK/PG/107 mins)Directed by Simon Curtis. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore.
THE PLOT: Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is a famous playwright who lives in Sussex with his glamorous but glacial wife Daphne (Margot Robbie). He’s haunted by flashbacks of the trench warfare he was subjected to in WWI. He soon produces an anti-war poem, feeding on the weary national feeling that the war definitely wasn’t over by the first Christmas. Their first, and only, child arrives not long after. In this family nobody is called by their real name, so they dub him Christopher Robin (Will Tilston). Young Christopher grows up to be an imaginative but dependent boy, needing attention and love – which he gets from friendly, reliable nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald). Alan eventually plays with Christopher in their imaginary world and tells stories about his animal toys, leading to the creation of one Winnie The Pooh…
THE VERDICT: Recently voted the best-loved children’s book of all time, Winnie The Pooh never really caught the imagination of this reviewer’s younger self. Maybe just as well, as creation story ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is unlikely to lead to a late-life discovery or a surge in book sales. It’s a strangely inert affair, that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say about its author and his relationship with his son. On the surface, it’s a sort-of biopic of author A.A. Milne; his at times strained relationship with Christopher Robin; and how all this lead to Winnie The Pooh jumping from a familial woodland tale into the hearts and minds of the world.
Part of the problem with the script by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Peter Vaughan is that it lacks initial warmth. You’d expect a story like this to be quite cosy early on, but this is not the case. When Christopher Robin is born, Alan holds him like a Ming Vase – unsure of how to handle him or where to put him. Daphne seems blissfully unaware of how babies are born, later berating Christopher with the harsh news that he almost killed her in childbirth. Director Simon Curtis casts a twee, childlike air over the whole film but it’s an uneasy mix of tones, as the film also deals with PTSD, marital problems and how celebrities can further their own fame by peddling their children to the media (a modern touch, intended more for now than then).
Thankfully, there is some warmth later on courtesy of Olive – more of a mother figure than Daphne for sure. Also, Alan finally puts away the English stiff upper lip and starts to enjoy quality time with his son. Gleeson brings some much-needed depth of feeling here and this is the most appealing part of the film as the characters of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the others take on a life of their own. Robbie does what she can, but an actor of her talent is seriously underserved by the script. It never really nails down just what is wrong with Daphne and why she’s so indifferent to her son. It’s more than just bad parenting.
‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is a well-meaning film that might pass an undemanding, rainy Sunday afternoon. However, it’s so stiff and twee that it never really adds up to something in depth and satisfying. Winnie The Pooh surely deserved a proper honey pot, rather than this somewhat crocked one.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    From the trailers, you might expect this to be a charmingly sweet, happy, cosy, feel-good little film with bears and picnics in forests and all centred on a beloved children’s author. That’s not the film that director Simon Curtis gives us with “Goodbye Christopher Robin”. This is a biopic that digs deeper and shows us the inspiration behind and the fallout from author A.A. Milne’s famous Winnie The Pooh stories. It reveals that the family was broken and the books gave some
    respite from the trauma and hurt in their lives and relationships. The Christopher Robin of the title wasn’t just an imaginary character but a boy based on Milne’s own son who ended up resenting the success of the books and how they destroyed his childhood. Milne himself recalls his own flaws as a father and how his work came close to isolating him from his own child permanently.

    The experiences in the trenches during World War 1 have damaged celebrated playwright A.A. Milne aka “Blue” (Domhnall Gleeson) who has been left bitter and traumatised and suffers from PTSD. Back in London society, he finds it difficult to go back to writing light comedies and so, despite objections from his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), he decides to move the family to the Sussex countryside. This includes his innocent young son, Christopher Robin addressed as “Billy Moon” (Will Tilston) and his devoted and compassionate nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald). His aim is to write a book about the horrors of war and he hopes that it could end the violence but he is struggling with it. Daphne is sick of
    her grumpy husband. She is a party lover and when she heads to London and
    Olive is on leave, Blue finds himself left temporarily alone with Billy Moon and the pair of them get on together better than expected. The heart of the film is the days during which they come to bond, spending quality time together, such as the first humorous breakfast they share. We see them build an imaginary world around the boy’s teddy and other stuffed toys along with their magical countryside adventures and the fantasies that inspired the famous stories which became published to immediate acclaim. Christopher Robin suddenly became a very famous character but Billy was not a happy little boy. He is subjected to interfering newspaper reporters, forced to go to public appearances and on radio and even pose next to a dangerous bear at the zoo. Only his Nanny seems to care that he is being used for publicity and suffering as a result. Ultimately when he gets old enough, much to the disapproval of his parents, he becomes a soldier in the British Army. Their worst nightmare comes when he goes missing from his battalion and is presumed to be dead.

    This is a very handsome period piece complete with sun-dappled paths, rolling hills, charming cottages, stylish dresses and picture perfect locations but I like that there’s more to it than that. Milne’s parenting skills are shown to be severely lacking and his acts are inexcusable but yet his relationship with his son is at the centre of his life. In fact the nicest parts of the film are when the two of them
    are walking in the woods together, the little boy carrying his teddy bear and holding his father’s hand. It’s the chemistry between the mismatched pair that makes the movie the little gem that it is. Young Tilson is adorable with his big wide eyes, deep dimples and funny bowl haircut. He’s inquisitive and alert but he comes across as a real kid, not all sugar and spice. In only a few scenes, Alex Lawther as the older Christopher Robin demonstrates how hard his teenage life must have been as a subject of ridicule because of his “famous” childhood. Gleeson gives a deep and moving performance as a wounded man, damaged by the atrocities of war and still tormented by flashbacks. Margot Robbie is excellent as the party girl who loves her lifestyle more than her son, although her role could have been given more depth. MacDonald shines as well bring warmth and emotion to her role as Nou, the nanny who became the only true parent the little boy had. “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is an engaging and interesting story which gives us an insight into how one of the most popular children’s books of all time came to be. I enjoyed every minute and would gladly recommend.