Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alex Lawther
Plot: A. A Milne (Gleeson) uses his child’s imagination to come up with a wonderful children’s world, which puts his family very harshly into the public eye.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a paradoxical tale. It is a story about a magnificent children’s book that aims to instil peace in a world racked by war, but the behind the scenes tale suggests the opposite. If anything, this story, which on paper seems like a British couple who happened to be behind a famous book series, becomes impossibly fascinating. There is more to A. A Milne and his son Christopher Robin than meets the eye.
The first chunk of the story is a strong argument that some people can be too British for parenting. If you had to conjure up an image in your head of a stereotypical children’s writer, sketching the author of Winnie the Pooh without ever knowing who he was, you would probably revolve your drawing around the key words: caring, fatherly, kind… But as we whiz through the early years of Christopher Robin’s life, it is clear that his father is the total opposite of that persona. A playwright who is determined to leave the West End and create a novel of meaning, he demands total silence in his household, while he slaves away on projects that never leave the ground. One comical scene sees A. A Milne hold the baby Christopher Robin like a ticking time bomb, no idea how to actually parent. It’s not all his fault, mind. We are introduced to the character as a returning soldier from the first World War, still struggling to shake the sound of gunfire and the smell of his dead friends. Small moments of joy like a father and son playing in the woods is soon cut short, when A. A Milne imagines the sound of an explosion and nearly strikes his young boy. You never dislike Domhnall’s A. A Milne as much pity him for being trapped in circumstance. Margot Robbie’s mother character is less forgiveable. A woman who believes that by simply giving birth to her son makes her the perfect mother, she drifts through life, unaware that she is neglecting poor Christopher Robin. She hires a nanny, who she belittles (a show-stealing Kelly Macdonald), rushes off to lavish parties every evening rather than spend time with her son and actively dissuades showing sadness in the house. Gleeson and Robbie’s performances, on the surface, look far too based on stereotypes, but give way into something deeper. Push past the clipped British dialogue and marvel at the contradictory characters on display here. The movie slowly lets A. A Milne warm on you (there is no hope for mother Daphne), as Milne begins to pull himself out of his patriarchal stiffness and become the kind of dream dad British cinema is built upon. Montages of cricket in the woods, imaginary games and, of course, Pooh sticks. This film is at its best, when Winnie the Pooh’s inspirations begin peeking from under the surface. A young Christopher Robin meets the real life bear who inspired Winnie in a zoo; Gleeson invents a depressed personality for a stuffed donkey teddy; Christopher Robin decides Tigger is a better name for a tiger: fans of the book and animation will be unable to hold back the smiles of joy.
But soon the creation of Winnie the Pooh gives way into a darker affair. The entire concept of the book is based upon the imagined world between father and son. At first, it is hard to begrudge A. A Milne breaking out of his writer’s block by lifting chunks of his son’s creativity and translating it into short stories. After all, there is a certain whimsy to the character of Winnie the Pooh that couldn’t come from anywhere but a child’s mind. But as Christopher Robin watches his beloved teddy bear leave his life and get projected out into the world, it is hard not to feel a little sorry for this boy thrust into the limelight. As the book becomes an unexpected global phenomenon, Christopher Robin is sent piles of fan letters, asked to attend forty interviews an evening and cannot leave the house without being quizzed on his personal life. There is a certain irony to kids everywhere dreaming of being Christopher Robin from the novel, while the real Christopher Robin would rather disappear off to a foreign country where no one has heard of him. The true emotion doesn’t quite sink in until the third act, which I shall refrain from discussing. Those well versed in the history of A. A Milne and Christopher Robin will know the horrific decision the boy made when he hit his teenage years, but for those that are not in the know, it makes for a wonderful twist in the story. The audience remain heartbroken, not at what is said, but the words that are absent. Gleeson’s A. A Milne is the kind of character who wants to say the right thing, but instead opts for silence. The ending is made of little interactions where the silence is painfully loud. Very paradoxical indeed.
Final Verdict: A delightful British tale about a family ripped apart by a creation bigger than them. The Winnie the Pooh fan service goes hand in hand with emotional drama.