What could have been a pile of poo, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN bears up rather well.
It begins on rather a sombre note during WWII and then flashbacks to the Somme and the mire, the mud, the maggots, a world far removed from the sunny, honey days of Pooh Bear.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is a great story about success and its consequences, which is always an interesting subject. A.A. Milne was phenomenally and unexpectedly successful, which became troubling for him and particularly for his son. Films rarely tell stories about how success can make life very difficult, and here we have a story where fame is the spur, but the spur breaks skin and becomes septic.
Yet the centre of the film is this magical period when father and son are left alone in the country for the first time. They discover each other, they enjoy each other’s imaginations and that inspires Milne to create Winnie-the-Pooh. The time he spends with Christopher Robin helps him through the recovery from what we now know as PTSD. Although it concentrates primarily on the few years that gave birth to Winnie-the-Pooh and the global phenomenon that followed, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is able to tell a much larger story about Britain during a difficult era.
As screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce says, “Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends enchanted and charmed the world with their innocence, but they were actually born in a harrowing time for the country and written by a man who had been traumatised by World War I.”
Alan Alexander Milne, known to friends and family as “Blue” and to the world as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, was already a well-known humorist and successful West End playwright when he became world famous for his children’s books. Known for breezy, sophisticated comedies in the manner of Noel Coward, Milne never expected that the fanciful tales he concocted for his son would win him literary immortality and place the son he called “Billy Moon” in the glaring spotlight of celebrity.
And the film illustrates that Christopher Robin’s mum, Daphne Milne, plays no small role in the creation of A.A. Milne as a children’s writer. She brings Christopher Robin the stuffed animals that inspire Pooh, Piglet and the rest, and the two play elaborate games with them. When her husband writes his first poem for the boy, it is Daphne who makes sure it is published.
She becomes the driving force and she does it all with the best of intentions, never realising the strain it will put on her family. Neither parent ever expected the Winnie-the-Pooh stories to become the phenomenon that it did and they definitely didn’t expect their son to become one of the most recognisable faces in England.
Domhnall Gleeson shines as the shell shocked scribe, trying to debonair in the wake of debilitating trauma.
Margot Robbie is vivaciously vapid, an almost daffy Daphne, and young Will Tilston makes an impressive motion picture debut as Christopher Robin.
Also of note, Kelly McDonald as Christopher’s nanny, Olive, a real life Mary Poppins but a lot more grounded in reality, and Stephen Campbell Moore as Ernest Shepard as the original illustrator of the Pooh books.
Directed by Simon Curtis, whose feature film debut was the marvellous Marilyn and Me, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN boasts absolutely gorgeous production values including superb cinematography from Ben Smithard, who shot Marilyn and Me, production designer David Roger ,and cossies by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, who previously designed wardrobe for Denial and Brooklyn.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is a cut above the average costume drama raising thought provoking themes such as childhood fame, fame full stop, parenting, class, the futility of war and yet it’s constant inevitability.
One fervently hopes audiences will be attracted to it like a bear to honey.