Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin does its job but definitely arrived with the ambition to do more.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Goodbye Christopher Robin assembles all the elements of a great historical drama, but somehow fails to fit them together. It’s never quite as cohesive as it’s meant to be. It’s touching and sad, supremely shot, beautiful to look at, but forgets the piece that completes the picture. And quite surprisingly, Margot Robbie turns in a high school performance that should’ve been eaten by her dog.
But the film raises interesting questions. We follow A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), who we know will create Winnie The Pooh, as he returns to London after fighting in the Great War, still haunted by nasty flashbacks that are triggered by innocuous balloon pops. He needs a sanctuary in which to continue his playwriting, so impulsively shifts his family to the countryside, where his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), who prefers his nickname Billy Moon, frolics amongst the trees with his stuffed toys and his watchful nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) is ordered to stay away from his busy father.
Naturally, circumstances arise that leave Billy alone with Milne. So the two begin to bond and before long Milne has created a children’s character based around his own son and his somewhat-imaginary friends. Seems harmless enough. But the fearsome genteel nature of the Milne’s makes them incapable of comprehending the impact of super stardom on a child who is not prepared for it. Billy is dressed to resemble the Christopher Robin of the Pooh books and is shoved into radio interviews and publicity photo shoots as the real thing. “He needs to grow up!”, asserts Olive. “He can’t do this!” “He seems to be doing it quite well actually”, replies his mother.
The film is written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, and the duo pay less attention to their dialogue than the relationship between father and son. Did Milne intend to hurt his son? Of course not. But then, looking at Milne, does he know what hurt is anymore? Yes, you could say the war shook him up real bad, but surely it’s the stoic Englishness of the time that ruined an otherwise beautiful relationship. In a household that doesn’t permit crying, how do you find out when someone’s in pain?
The irony of course is that tragedy had to happen for the world to be introduced to one of the happiest characters of all time. Winnie The Pooh charmed countless children across the world but had to break apart a family to do it. It’s this fractured logic that forms the centre of Goodbye Christopher Robin, and not the war, the countryside or Winnie The Pooh.
Later we get to see an older Billy Moon (played by Alex Lawther), after having been abused by schoolmates for his fame. He’s broken and resents his father for using him to create an empire, trotting off to fight in a war his father fought to prevent. It’s poetic how history is doomed to repeat itself.
These are all the parts of the movie that work, and I enjoyed the way young Tilston embodies all that is cheerful. Without him I suspect the movie would’ve been flat. As it is, it’s only moderately bumpy, not putting a foot wrong but not exactly sprinting down a tightrope.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017.