Author’s note: It’s the one year anniversary of this blog! Thanks for reading everyone!
Before the creation of Harry Potter, if you were to try and guess which British children’s book was most beloved around the world, then the stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends would undoubtedly be at the top of most people’s lists. (Sorry Chronicles of Nania fans!)
That said, most people have only experienced Winnie the Pooh through its numerous animated fare. But Goodbye Christopher Robin takes a different approach, instead choosing to explore the story behind the stories. That in itself isn’t unusual, especially when taking into account similar films such as Saving Mr Banks and the story of Mary Poppins; or the Oscar-winning Finding Neverland and its tale of Peter Pan’s origins.
But while the aforementioned films more or less climax at the author’s success; Goodbye Christopher Robin stands out by taking it one step further.
A veteran of World War I, famous author A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffers from severe PTSD. As a result he has become disillusioned with his writing prowess, feeling that his current work does not reflect the darkness of a post-WW1 world.
Needing a new start, he decides a move to the silence of the countryside would be in his best interests. Along for the ride is his wife, Daphane (Margot Robbie); his son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston in his debut performance); and Olive (Kelly Macdonald), the nanny to young Christopher.
With Daphane and Olive both needing to commute regularly back to the city, Milne is forced to spend more time with his son. While at first such interaction seems like a chore, over time father and son explore the world around them through new eyes, helping to give Milne a drastically new direction for his writings.
Brought to the screen by acclaimed director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn); Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fairly unique tale, straddling a line between how a man can experience overwhelming professional success, and yet still result in great failure within his personal life.
To this end, the choice to cast Gleeson is an excellent one. While he’s helped along by the bombastic sound effects of war, his every twitch and grimace lends a sense of sympathy to his continued suffering from the traumatic events of WWI.
But it’s after the birth of his son where the film takes flight, exploring not only the developing relationship between a father and son, but also how seeing the world through the eyes of childish innocence and imagination can sometimes give an individual a new lease of life.
Though most of the actors are given a chance to shine, a special mention must be made for the role of Robbie’s Daphane. As the story is primarily a father-son journey, it would have been far too easy to allow the voice of Daphane to fall by the wayside. But the writers, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, make sure not to fall into this trap; instead allowing Robbie to play a fairly complex character, one which shows a rather unique portrayal of motherhood, at least in comparison to similar portrayals of the time period.
As you might expect the film primarily focuses on the creation of the Winnie the Pooh legend and how each of Christopher’s toys contributed to the numerous characters. But while this might take up the bulk of the narrative, it’s the aftermath that elevates the story above other similar tales. As we see the massive success of the books take over the world, it becomes increasing clear that readers recognise the similarities between the stories and the Milne family, causing Christopher to essentially become the world’s first child star.
Easily the most fascinating part, we witness how a child deals with fame and the negative fallout, as well as the resulting stresses on family ties. It’s actually quite hard not to be reminded of our own child celebrities and their struggles; such as Macaulay Culkin, Michael Jackson and Lindsey Lohan.
That said, the film’s desire to build towards a moment of catharsis means there is a sense of artificiality injected into the proceedings. As we see older Christopher Robin (Alex Lawther) deal with the bullying from his school peers, it’s clear that the desire to escape the shadow of his celebrity childhood has shaped him deeply. But this issue is barely touched upon, instead cut down to the bare minimum, leaving a sense of incompleteness for what is otherwise an engrossing story.
I’ve generally been quite down on most British films. Most of the time they either seem to be about gangsters or upper-class toffs. While Goodbye Christopher Robin does admittedly centre around an upper-class family; it chooses to focus on the more universal themes of family, trauma and self identity. Undoubtably this is a journey that is almost impossible not to get swept up along with.
But the decision to almost completely avoid the struggle of older Christopher Robin suggests that maybe the big screen wasn’t the best place for this story to be told. Perhaps a six episode BBC run would have been far more appropriate in order to properly explore all aspects of this decades-spanning story.