Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: October 13th, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Simon Curtis Actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore, Kelly Macdonald

 


 

B

eginning in 1941 at Ashdown Forest in Sussex, Alan “Blue” Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) receives word of his son, who has gone off to war. Blue’s wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), attempts to hide her displeasure at what is certainly a monumental notice. But then, with overly refined editing, the characters change ages, shift to and from flashbacks, and transition from the past to the present. As has become an infuriatingly common narrative device in contemporary cinema, this opening is momentary; the storyline cuts back to an earlier period, promising to return to this significant juncture at a later stage. Here, it’s completely unnecessary, as well as something of a spoiler for an event that could have packed so much more of a wallop had it been secreted until the conclusion.

Suddenly, it’s 1916 at the Western Front in France, where Milne skirts deadly bombardments. Like a dream, he flees from shelling through the door of a great hall, where a ballroom dance finds him embracing Daphne. But he’s bitter and cynical from his experiences in the military, struggling to keep his mind on the present, where combat should be a distant concept. “Life is full of frightful things,” reminds Daphne, yet she insists that they have no power if one refuses to acknowledge them. Startled into confusion by every loud sound, it’s evident that the war’s revulsions have taken a toll on the soundness of Alan’s mind.

The picture then races forward again, touching upon major events in Milne’s life, such as the birth of a child and the revival of one of his plays, as he has reverted back to his profession as a writer. Next, nanny Olive “Nou” (Kelly Macdonald) arrives, raising the young boy, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) – who goes by the name Billy Moon – to the extent that the child prefers this caretaker to either of his actual parents. And they don’t seem to mind, as this relieves them of the annoying responsibilities of parenting, allowing them extra time to party and socialize. Eventually, the family moves to a quiet estate away from the West End, where Alan can write about the war – an eye-opening topic far more weighty than the comedies his wife wishes him to pursue.

Finally, the movie slows down to enable the audience to connect with Billy around the age of 8, where they’re also alienated from Alan and Daphne – the former too strict and suffering from PTSD to focus on his son’s frivolities, and the latter too wrapped up in staying youthful and remaining in elite circles (like Ruth Chatterton’s Fran in “Dodsworth”) to participate in the boy’s upbringing. When Olive must leave for three days to tend to her sick mother, and Daphne has departed for the foreseeable future, Alan is at last plagued with the tremendous task of caring for Billy. The horror!

However, this is where “Goodbye Christopher Robin” sheds its artistry and backstory detailing for some eagerly awaited bonding. And it’s also where Winnie the Pooh is born, altering the name Winnipeg from an American black bear at the zoo, and crafting fantasies about Billy’s stuffed animal companions – including a donkey, a piglet, and a tiger – residing in the Hundred Acre Wood. As Milne’s tormented soul discovers therapeutic qualities in the fanciful misadventures of an assortment of comical buffoons, so too do readers across England, who welcome the cheerfulness of his family-friendly fairy tales. Here, the film blends the lead couples’ quarrels, the depressive neglect of Billy, and a general sense of sadness and distraction with the pure delight of make-believe and play – made more absorbing by the previous, marked deficiencies in parenting.

There’s another less palatable act, however, as the jolliness is again displaced by disregard for Christopher Robin’s wellbeing. The boy becomes like Winnipeg the zoo animal, put on show for the benefit of his parents as the Winnie the Pooh books become more and more successful. Fame comes at a high price, particularly for a child who never asked or wanted such attention. Although the finishing sequences of the film feel as if they don’t know when to stop, carrying on with multiple endings and the repetition of Billy’s exploitability, the emotional ups and downs of realizations, tragedies, and reunions are entirely effective. It becomes a sensationally profound biography with a powerful parting shot, enhanced by excellent performances (particularly from Tilston), moving confessions, and insight into the inspirations behind one of the most beloved of all children’s books.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10