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.
Review by Gareth O’Connor