Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

248 Goodbye Christopher Robin

Box-office pressure compels filmmakers to make one film appeal to multiple markets. If you can plausibly mix a war story, a domestic drama and a coming-of-age tale into a bio-pic that appeals to all age groups you are on a winner. Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) is certainly a winner.

All of these genre strands reveal a different aspect of the same story: that the author of the world’s most recognised children’s storybook character Winnie the Pooh had exploited his son to achieve literary fame. Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returned deeply traumatised after the ‘war to end all wars’, hoping to resume his fashionable career as a London playwright. His pretentious wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) wanted a daughter and never bonded with their son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston). They retreat to the countryside but Daphne quickly tires of rural life, leaving her husband and son for the London social scene. When his beloved nanny Olive (Kelly McDonald) must spend time with her sick mother, Christopher finds a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to know his father. It is during this short period that the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ legend was born.

The film has a narrative structure that allows the story to move between genre strands and across several decades. The effect of these shifts is to tell the story from Christopher’s point of view both as a child and later as a young man after World War II. Through his childhood recollections, the adult Christopher shares his loneliness and deep resentment over the endless interviews and public adoration for the ‘boy with the bear from the 100 Acre Wood’. The story reveals that instead of little Christopher Robin being the luckiest boy in the world he was the saddest.

This is a beautifully told story which unfolds gently to leave the Pooh mythology as undisturbed as possible. The filming is lusciously saturated with many scenes having a painterly picture-book quality evocative of childhood nostalgia. Casting is superb, with the impossibly adorable and mega-dimpled Will Tilston stealing every scene in which he appears. Domhnall Gleeson is excellent as the war-damaged author who turned to writing fantasy to ease the trauma, and Margot Robbie is perfect as the emotionally vacuous parent for whom mothering was an embarrassing inconvenience. The dialogue-rich script is peppered with whimsy, intelligence, and the starchy middle-class manners of Britain in the war years.

With top-shelf production values it is hard to fault this film, except of course if you are a historian. Several have questioned the facts upon which the story is based and they always will. Or perhaps you are a Milne fan hoping to hear his prose and feel cheated by the fleeting references to the characters and settings of his work. However, judged on its cinematic merits, the delightful Goodbye Christopher Robin is one of the most enjoyable and entertaining films of the year.


Director: Simon Curtis

Stars:  Will Tilston, Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly McDonald