Goodbye Christopher Robin – The Happiest of Tragedies

Goodbye Christopher Robin Review

Runtime: 107mins  |Director: Simon Curtis | Rating: 4 Stars

As a child, I was incredibly lucky to have lived mere minutes away from The Ashdown Forest, the home of Winnie the Pooh. I distinctly remember going on walks and being warned to keep an eye out for ‘Heffalumps’ and ‘Woozles’ amongst the trees whilst playing pooh sticks on Pooh Bridge which was also a very short drive away from home. I never truly appreciated how lucky I was to grow up where I did, but seeing Goodbye Christopher Robin made me feel luckier than ever before due to its portrayal of such an idyllic and inspiring location.

The film centres on the lives of A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) who is playfully nicknamed ‘Billy Moon’. Having gone to war, Milne comes back with severe PTSD and struggles to adjust back to his normal life. In an attempt to get his creative juices flowing again, he and his family move to rural East Sussex in the heart of the Ashdown Forest. Whilst attempting to write a book discouraging further wars, Milne procrastinates by spending quality time with Christopher Robin in the forest creating a fictitious world where Christopher’s teddy, Winnie, is real. Milne soon sees the potential in such a charming narrative and enlists the help of illustrator E. H. Shephard to make it into a story. ‘Winnie the Pooh’ soon becomes an international success helping to return people happiness after the suffering the war caused, but Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, suffers instead being swept into a world he wants no part of. 

Despite living minutes away from where this all began, I was surprisingly naïve about the story behind ‘Winnie the Pooh’. When I think of those stories, I think of a clumsy bear with an adoration and insatiable hunger for honey, and a group of his whimsical animal friends – namely, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet. Goodbye Christopher Robin instead portrays the darker side to the stories revealing that beneath the idyllic sheen to them, they were founded in a child’s suffering. Predominantly being cared for by his nanny, Olive, who is later fired for standing up for him, he has no real family. His father, Milne, is plagued by trauma from his PTSD and his mother, Daphne, despite loving him is more interested in their ability to climb the social ladder. As a result of this, Christopher Robin is sucked into the world of promotion for the books and is forced to have interviews, meetings and photo shoots rather than an ordinary childhood which he yearns for. This is perhaps best depicted when Christopher Robin is ordered to have a photo shoot with a real bear and is told he’ll be fine as long as he makes no sudden movements!

There is a lot of good to be said about this film – firstly, Domhnall Gleeson is fantastic in it. I can’t imagine acting someone who had severe PTSD is easy but he somehow does it with apparent ease. Gleeson also carries off the loquacious upper-class articulation of Milne very well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Margot Robbie whom I usually love as an actress. Whilst she acts the part of Daphne as best she can, there is only so much compensation you can provide for an underdeveloped part. Daphne is portrayed as a semi-villain and her complicated nature isn’t fully explored which is frustrating. Another issue I had was that Robbie’s British accent is horrible - Despite being Australian, I can’t imagine her with anything other than a Brooklyn accent (which she does exceptionally well in both The Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad ­– arguably her most notable roles).

A final credit to the film is that it also manages to balance the necessary duty of capturing the childish wonder and happiness the books inspired, whilst simultaneously depicting the tragic lives the family, particularly Christopher Robin, lead – again, something not easy to do because if you indulge in one too much, it takes away from the authenticity of the other.

All in all, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a pleasure to watch despite its minor flaws. At its best, it explores the beautiful relationship between a father and his son, and at its most tragic, it depicts a child’s exploitation for financial gain. The biggest triumph it has to offer though is the breakout performance by Will Tilston who does an excellent job of portraying Christopher Robin. I expect he will appear in many other fantastic films in the future, so keep an eye out for him - He is brilliant.

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