Hey did you know that Disney didn’t create beloved childhood icon Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, no? Me neither until recently when I read on a Wikipedia page that it was actually first written by an A A Milne. This got me thinking, who was this A.A. Milne? Did he have a son whom he traumatised by writing a book about him, taking away his childhood and thrusting him into the spotlight that he never wanted? Was this child’s life forever destroyed when his own name was taken away from him and he was left with happy memories that he had of his father that now every child in the world had too. And then I saw that a movie exploring just these themes was coming to cinemas soon, and thus I went to see it and now because I can’t go to the cinema for fun anymore I am writing this blog post about it that you are reading now.
After returning from the first world war A.A. Milne, a satirist, is severely shell-shocked. To try and combat this, he, his wife and young son Christopher Robin Milne moved to East Sussex to escape the noise of London. Milne and his young son, along with Christopher’s collection of stuffed animals, explore the woods and these excursions are to provide the basis for the most famous bear in literature.
The marketing for Goodbye Christopher Robin suggests it to be a sentimental, uplifting narrative of a child and his father making something wonderful to share with the world; something sweet and inoffensive, and something that I would loathe. However, I can say that this film is not at all afraid of looking at the darker undertones that reside within this tale underneath the slightly jolly exterior. This is a story of exploitation, of parental abandonment and at the centre of it, a young child is lost to the character his father wrote. I was bowled over by the very weighty issues being dealt with. As I said before, this is a story of a father destroying his child’s life and how that comes back to bite him. There is going to be some sentimentality and, fantasy in the film, but for the most part that is tempered after a while as you soon understand it for a veneer. There is an argument to be had that perhaps the film is a little too safe, it is still a film that glorifies the creation of Winnie the Pooh and the land that inspired it, almost like a tourist video, however, I would argue that the film uses this as a trick to lull you into a false sense of security before the inevitable heartbreak. The ending is a happy one, which is a shame, but I don’t know enough about the actual history to say whether this filmic ending holds validity.
Goodbye Christopher Robin’s tone and story are helped with an absolutely fantastic central performance by Domnhall Gleeson, son of Brendan Gleeson and star of Ex Machina and Star Wars. His A.A. Milne brims with a hidden controlled depth that speaks powerfully to the time, and his actions bring about his and his son’s destruction. This excellent portrayal is backed up by fantastic supporting roles from Kelly MacDonald (of Trainspotting Fame) as Nanny Olive, Margot Robbie (or Harley Quinn) as AA Milnes Wife, Daphne, and a surprise turn from child actor Will Tilston. I would say that Robbie and MacDonald do at times feel very stilted in their performances, this may be due to Robbie’s accent not having fully settled yet, but there is a preciseness to her portrayal that I couldn’t get past.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a film of two parts; it is all nostalgia and sweetness on the surface as it wishes for the simpler interwar period when Milne was writing Winne the Pooh, but it delves deeper into shell shock, World War Two, institutionalised bullying, upper class repression, terrible parenting and the price of fame. It is one of the better “worthy” films I have seen this year, better than Victoria and Abdul, better than In Search of an Ending, better that Philomena, so it is not as boring or forgettable as those movies. The film does have its problems as the acting and look of the film tend toward the melodramatic sepia-tinted view rather than something more believable. But apart from that, this is a sweet film with a sharper, aftertaster taste that may draw a tear from the most cynical of hearts.
You can watch Goodbye Christopher Robin in Cinemas now