'Goodbye Christopher Robin': Moving family drama but not gritty enough

  • Movie Review
  • Wednesday, 18 Apr 2018

Say "cheese!" OK fine, maybe not.

Who knew the sweet, honey-loving bear Winnie The Pooh brought so much bitterness and pain to its creator and his family?

Goodbye Christopher Robin, directed by Simon Curtis, explores the personal life of British author A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), best known for writing a series of books on the enduring, well-loved Winnie The Pooh.

Set in the 1920s, the film opens with Milne who has just returned from fighting in World War I as part of the British army. Before his conscription, Milne had made a name for himself as a playwright.

But the brutalities of war keep him up at night. Even the sound of a champagne cork popping brings him back to the trenches of WWI.

Hoping to get some peace and quiet, and resume his writing, Milne, his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) relocate from London to the countryside.

Here, Milne and his son get to spend some quality time playing in the woods, often accompanied by the little boy’s soft toys – one of them, a teddy bear named Winnie. And there you have it, the beginnings of Winnie The Pooh.

But as the film progresses, you get the feeling that Goodbye Christopher Robin isn’t a story about the world-famous cuddly bear.

As the books grow in popularity, their successes put a strain on the family members.

It’s this unexpected family drama that I find myself irresistibly drawn to. The film does a good job of bringing across complex themes about family life that are just as relevant today as they were close to a century ago, when the film was set.

It’s the compromises one has to make as a working parent. It’s the love and attention yearned by a latchkey child. It’s the matters of the heart we’re often too afraid to talk about at the dinner table.

These heart-to-heart talks are the best moments of the film, and sadly, that’s pretty much the only thing the film has going for it.

Goodbye Christopher Robin
Say "cheese!" OK fine, maybe not. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

For a family drama to work, it needs the support of well-written characters, which Goodbye Christopher Robin sadly lacks.

The characters just aren’t fleshed out enough.

You get an idea of why the PTSD-stricken Milne is the way he is, but it remains just that, an idea. The film never explores what exactly he was traumatised by during his time in the war, which resulted in him being emotionally absent.

And you have Milne’s wife Daphne who’s caught up with all things superficial and material, often leaving her caretaking duties to nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), but you don’t know how she came to be that way either.

The underdeveloped characters in turn don’t allow Gleeson and Robbie, both gifted actors in their own right, to play Milne and Daphne to the full.

Macdonald, whose character sort of acts as the eyes and ears of the audience, steals the show as the nanny brave enough to be the only person in the household to crack the whip.

The film also spends too much time telling the origins of Winnie The Pooh – which, to be fair, may appeal to fans of the anthropomorphic bear – and comparatively little on the meaty relationship stuff.

Perhaps it’s the filmmaker’s way of keeping a sense of wholesomeness to a film about a bear so loved and cherished by all. Grittier storytelling may have got in the way of that.

Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore

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