Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) offers us a very stiff upper lipped British tragedy.
With something as pure and innocent as the adventures of Winnie The Pooh, you’d be forgiven for thinking the story of their creation would be equally as heart-warming and uplifting. But, as Simon Curtis’ absorbing biopic reveals, the truth is anything but.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin” tells the true-life story of how one of the world’s most famous bears, and his friends, came to share their adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood with the world. Unfortunately, it’s a tale of two psychologically damaged individuals, left to struggle with suppressing their conditions thanks to the rigid class structure and the social norms of the inter-War period.
A A Milne (Domnhall Gleeson) returns from the First World War clearly suffering from then-unrecognised PTSD. Finding little joy in his previous profession as a West End playwright, he decides to relocate his family to the countryside following the birth of his son, a disappointment to his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) who wanted a daughter. As Daphne’s disappointed deepens into [the similarly then unregnised] post-natal depression, the couple hires a nanny, Olive (Kelly MacDonald), to look after Christopher.
What follows is an authentically ‘British Heritage’ filtered sad tale of an estranged childhood followed by a thoughtless exploitation of Christopher Robin in the service of fame and celebrity. There are moments of joy and warmth, of course, but these brief highs only serve to throw the lows into sharp relief. The film largely attributes the creation of Winnie The Pooh to Christopher Robin’s imagination, opportunistically exploited and expanded on by his father and ruthlessly commercialised by his mother, the bitter pressure of their damaged and untreated psyches forging a gem but destroying the familial bonds which never recovered.
Both Gleeson and Robbie navigate their difficult roles well, bringing a fragile and damaged humanity to a screenplay which paints them both in a very unfavourable light, especially compared to the warm and compassionate Kelly MacDonald. There’s a stiffness to the early scenes of the film, though – and you may just cut yourself on Robbie’s archly cut-glass accent – which means it takes a while to really engage with these unlikeable characters. It’s really thanks to young Will Tilston, who as the young Christopher Robin, starts to coax some warmth and humanity out of his father before its cruelly snuffed out by his mother’s ambitions, that you begin to empathise with any of the characters at all.
As a study of how the brightest of lights can be born from the deepest darkness, “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” is a fascinating and moving true-life account but as an appetiser for the whimsical delights on offer in the forthcoming “Christopher Robin”, it’s likely to leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.