Release: 26th February 2018
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN gives a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will TIlston), whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family?
Not since the McCallister family, have parents been as obscenely absent from their child’s life as, apparantly, author Alan Alexander Milne and Daphne were from that of young Christopher Robin Milne. Well, that is at least the narrative being spun in this patchy and downright depression biopic, Goodbye Christopher Robin.
Directed by Simon Curtis, GCR is a film that never quite knows what story it wants to tell. Starting life as a character study of a struggling author suffering from PTSD, it soon morphs into something more akin to the common narrative of parental neglect; somethingthat even the worst social services agent couldn’t fail to miss. But it is not until Curtis finally finds focus on the more nuanced torment of child celebrity culture that the film really gets its voice. The central relationship between little Christopher and his nanny Olive sets the tone for what feels like a wholly oversimplified truth, that Milne and his wife were largely pre-occupied once Winnie the Pooh became such as success. Daphne in particular comes off very poorly in this adaptation, as Margot Robbie plays her with ultimate bitchiness and maximum villainy. While Milne, meanwhile, seems to be a debilitated coward who happened upon the imagination of his younger son and got rich off the back of it.
One cannot imagine the Milne estate being overly comfortable with the story being told here, and Simin Curtis ramps up the melodrama to no end. One scene in particular sees young Christopher, played by Will Tilston, ushered in to a bear enclosure to pose with a living grizzly bear called Winnie. In the film, Christopher appears terrified as Tilston pulls a face (that on a separate note, looks remarkably like Geena Davis), while his father looks on and we the audience think, “you heartless, mental bastard”. The reality is that Christopher actually took the time to pet the bear and feed her honey from a spoon. Another instance, shows Milne and Daphne trick Christopher in to attending a publicity event where he is forced to have tea with strangers and answer questions. Once again, “evil bastard parents”. In reality Christopher is quoted as saying he often enjoyed public appearances. So make of this what you will.
Of course, fact and fiction are relative when it comes to cinema, and no doubt GCR remains true to the essence of a universal understanding that fame and childhood do not mix; let alone when the individual and the celebrity are so interwoven. It is a fitting parable for the modern age, where parents use social media to exploit the privacy of their children for likes and retweets, in an effort to garner their own sense of wellbeing or finances.
There is a much better film to have been made here, in an effort to focus more on these themes. Maybe one that shows an older Christopher at war, slowly recognising the impact of his father’s legacy reflected in childhood memories. But for the moment, this is the best we have, and a fully committed cast do their best to create some semblance of a beating heart from snippets of humanity. But it ultimately Kelly Macdonald who achieves the most. “Oh! God bless Nanny,” indeed.
Film Grade: C
A bunch of EPKs offer very little insight in to the film, while a Director’s Commentary provides the odd nugget of entertainment. The turth, however, remains elusive.
Special Features Grade: D+
Unlike with Pooh, this honey pot is devoid of sweet treats, but is rather a bee sting of melodrama and bittersweet familial turmoil.