UK Release Date: 29th September 2017
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Simon Vaughan
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Kelly Macdonald, Alex Lawther, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Synopsis: After fighting in the First World War, playwright AA Milne shuns London to spend some time in the countryside, where he forms a close relationship with his son that inspires him to write a children’s book.
The movie world loves crafting sickly sweet biopics featuring beloved children’s authors, particularly with awards season on the horizon. Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne is the latest figure to get that particular treatment with the well-meaning, but ultimately unsatisfying Goodbye Christopher Robin. It’s a film that flirts with a more unusual spin on its central idea, but is content to fall back into cliché and sentimentality when it loses its nerve even a little. Good performances from a cast on solid form are unable to rescue a film that presents the England of fudge boxes and postcards, with all of the edge of a sun-dried tomato.
AA Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is struggling with shellshock in the wake of the First World War and stuns socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) when he says he wants to move from London to Sussex, in order to write an anti-war book. She reluctantly agrees, but Milne is frequently distracted and ultimately spends lots of time with his son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), when his nanny (Kelly Macdonald) is away. This fun time soon mutates into the idea that would eventually become the Winnie the Pooh publishing phenomenon.
Director Simon Curtis, who impressed a few years ago with Woman in Gold, dips every frame of his film in treacle, as if it’s a piece of stout Digestive biscuit being dunked in a milky cup of tea. Everything in the film seems to be about conjuring a rose-tinted view of interwar Britain, entirely free of edge or trouble. The tone cements Goodbye Christopher Robin as the kind of movie that will get a prime slot on the BBC schedule during that weird week between Christmas and New Year, where everyone is nursing food babies and Nan is still polishing off the last of the sherry and shortbread.
The story, from writing duo Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, is made up almost entirely of what Mark Kermode would call ‘chubby hmm’ moments. Every frame of the supposedly touching scenes between Domhnall Gleeson – in a bizarre, buttoned-up performance – and the impressively luminous Will Tilston seems to feature an obvious, clunky reference to Milne’s subsequent work. These intrusions repeatedly undermine any attempts to build character, with Kelly Macdonald’s put-upon, patient nanny just about the only person it’s nice to spend time with.
Goodbye Christopher Robin does, however, find a second wind after its midpoint, where it shifts from author biopic to an exploration of the corrupting power of fame. This is when Tilston’s impressively complex performance barges to the forefront of the narrative, continued by the equally compelling Alex Lawther as a slightly older version of the youngster. It’s in these scenes, though, that Gleeson and co-star Margot Robbie become almost villainous in their manipulation of their son – undermining the film’s sickly sweet perspective.
There’s an odd dichotomy at the centre of Goodbye Christopher Robin in that it feels as if it’s straining to be a darker, more serious film than its subject matter allows it to be. A true exploration of how global fame toxified Christopher Robin’s childhood could have made for a compelling watch. However, Curtis’s film is too preoccupied with making rural Britain look pretty and attempting to eke tears from the eyes of those who grew up with Pooh and his friends. Instead of shooting for the stars with some narrative complexity, it instead reverts to the lowest common, mushy denominator.
Pop or Poop?
In a parallel universe where the movie industry is less risk averse, Goodbye Christopher Robin could’ve asked some serious questions. Unfortunately, in our world, it’s a damp tea towel of a movie that, at times, is like dawdling through a sepia-toned fantasy of interwar Britain where every leaf yields incredible literary inspiration. I hate to be an Eeyore, but this is Pooh indeed.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.