Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

This surprisingly heartfelt film has lots to say about success and its personal costs.

When people aspire to succeed, it can sometimes result in quite incredible tales of fighting the odds to achieve victory. However, some stories of real-life achievement are not always as clear cut and blissful in their nature. And back in the mid-20s, when Winnie-the-Pooh was first released into a post-WW2 world, the story of its author A. A. Milne and its inspiration (his young son Christopher Robin Milne and his Teddy Edward) went a little lost, as the books and the character became some of the most cherished in all of children’s literature. In fact, I was not aware at all of the details of the story behind 100-Acre Wood and Winnie The Pooh and his friends but this new film from Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) arrives to tell that very tale…and not everything is as sweet as honey that’s for sure.

Starting off rather concisely, this film quickly summarises Milne’s (Domnhall Gleeson) life up to the birth of his son Christopher. From meeting and marrying his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) to him fighting in/surviving WWI, to his struggle escaping the traumas of conflict, a lot is covered here and it must be said that some of the film’s sub-plots pertaining to the experiences of Milne’s life are not as layered (the controversial writing of his pacifist war essay ‘Peace with Honour’) as others. However, this is a film that focuses intently on its core story and slowly but surely comes to dissect a fair few fascinating subjects within this true-life account.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a film that unshakably evokes memories of the utterly enchanting 2013 bio-Drama Saving Mr. Banks (which looked at the meetings between Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney about adapting her story to film). However, this film is arguably even sadder but no less wonderful, as it looks honestly at how accomplishment has a darker side and the troubling matters that come with achieving celebrity at a young age (…even back in the ‘20s). This film is unexpectedly heartfelt in its presentation of this equally unexpectedly troubled story of lost childhood and a family separated by their own fame. Not to mention, the especially interesting themes it tackles of how providing happiness can come at a personal cost and whether that cost is worth it?

This film asks many questions and its effectiveness is rather dependent on how you take to the presentation. Make no mistake about it, with some cold family scenes, bullying and a brilliantly affected performance by young Will Tilston that brings to light the pressures placed on the young head of the real Christopher Robin, this can be a tragic viewing. That being said, there is splendid warmth behind the film and the actual filmmaking, which captures a sense of happiness within elements of this story. The Autumn coloured cinematography by Ben Smithard playfully dances with Carter Burwell’s poignant scoring and some inspired visual moments that combine the real with the sketches of E.H. Shepard (sympathetically played here by Stephen Campbell Moore) all create a quite enchanting little film, blessed by some lovely performances.

Some critics were very harsh about this film, which has drawn mixed responses for its contrived accents, traditionally British construction and casting. Well, while admittedly Robbie is a bit too young for her part, I thought they each played their roles very well indeed. Tilston was tremendous as the young Christopher and the scenes between he and an excellent Gleeson are truly emotive. While Robbie is very believable as his wife Daphne and never once did I question her casting, she was great. As were some of the supporting cast, including the aforementioned Moore and Alex Lawther as the 18-year-old Christopher Robin. However the showstealer is Kelly Macdonald as the Milne’s housekeeper and Christopher’s nanny Olive, she is captivating and assertive, echoing many of our sentiments as a viewer and harnessing genuine poignancy, even more so than some of the leads, in some very powerful scenes.

Undoubtedly some liberties have probably been taken with the actual story and the film may not (and for that matter hasn’t) satisfy all tastes as it skims over certain areas of the whole Milne story but as an account of the troubles that came with writing a legendary literary creation, this is well acted, well made, resonant, profound and (considering some of its earnest moments) really quite impressively magical.

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