Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Biography | Family | History
  • Director: Simon Curtis
  • Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald


A rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin, whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive, Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family?

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  • Though A.A. Milne’s collection of stories revolving around the fantastical adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh are often acknowledged to have provided joy and comfort to millions all over the world following the Great War, their success proved an unshakeable curse for the boy that inspired them, Milne’s son Christopher Robin, whose resentment was such that he was once quoted as saying that his father “had gotten where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.”

    Goodbye Christopher Robin, the handsomely mounted biopic written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan and directed by Simon Curtis, admirably focuses on the darker currents rippling beneath its sun-dappled surface, covering PTSD, postpartum depression, and how creativity can often be a cannibalistic master. Beginning in 1941 with the arrival of an ominous telegram, the film flashes back some twenty-five years earlier to Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) in the trenches during the Battle of Somme. Back in London society, Blue, as he’s called by friends, is still dealing with his trauma – the pop of a champagne cork recalls gunfire, the buzzing of flies reminds him of the flies that blanketed the corpses that surrounded him – and his anti-war proclamations make him a bit of a spoilsport for those who just want to forget the war and get on with having a good time again. As his socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) says, “If you don’t think about the thing, then it ceases to exist.”

    Blue does his best to live a life – he and Daphne have a son Christopher Robin (the irresistibly dimpled Will Tilston), affectionally called Billy Moon, though neither seem particularly equipped or interested in raising him, preferring to leave him with his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) whilst they gallivant off to parties and extended holidays. Yet Blue isn’t content with writing West End fripperies, he wants to create something meaningful and, despite Daphne’s reluctance, he relocates the entire family to rural East Sussex, where he believes the peaceful countryside will be conducive to his writing.

    It is there that, during a period when an exasperated Daphne returns to London and Olive leaves to care for her dying mother, father and son are left in each other’s company. The two go for strolls in the forest, which soon becomes the breeding ground for the exploits of Pooh Bear and his friends. Blue invites his friend and fellow war-damaged veteran, the illustrator E.H. Shephard (Stephen Campbell Moore), to join them and, in the seamless transitions from live action to gently animated illustration, one sees how Blue and Shephard immortalised their muse. “Are we writing a book?” Billy asks, “I thought we were just having fun.” When Blue uses his son’s birth name for the character, he relieves Billy’s concern by saying, “It’s your real name, but it’s not who you really are.”

    As the success of Winnie-the-Pooh spreads, Billy is at first tickled at being the most famous little boy in the world but he soon begins to bristle at sharing his childhood with the press and the public and having to be Christopher Robin when he is really Billy Moon. More piercingly, whatever closeness he shared with Blue during that idyllic period of Pooh Bear’s creation has been pushed aside in favour of interviews, photo shoots, and other publicity opportunities. One heartbreaker of a scene has Billy delighted to receive a phone call from Blue wishing him a happy birthday before realising that it’s being broadcast on radio. One can understand that the later scenes between Blue and the teenage Christopher (Alex Lawther) drive home Christopher’s resentment at being exploited, but they feel a bit more standard compared to the complexities of what preceded them. In general, the latter section of the film is a bit more by-the-numbers and rushes to reach a tidy resolution.

    The majority of Goodbye Christopher Robin, however, despite some imperfections in execution, often achieves moments of power and poignancy. Robbie’s unapologetically unsympathetic portrayal of Daphne contrasts beautifully with Macdonald’s warmth and reserve. Gleeson is excellent as a man who might be a better father on the page than in actual life, and Tilston does very well indeed as the young boy beloved by millions but not by the two people who should love him most of all.

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