- Sweet, emotional and utterly delightful
- Variety of themes enrich film, but some aren’t explored to the extent they could be
- Margot Robbie’s character isn’t given enough for us to really get an insight into her – remains a thinly written character (despite great turn from Robbie)
- Excellent performances all around – particularly newcomer Will Tilston
- References to Milne’s work and Winnie the Pooh an absolute joy
- Nostalgic, bitter-sweet looks at childhood will tempt you to shed a tear or two
The thought of a biopic that charts the touching story of the creation of a children’s tale that has meant so much to so many over the years instantly makes me think of Finding Neverland, a sweet film I’m very fond of. In many ways, Goodbye Christopher Robin is very similar – bitter-sweet, heart-warming, full of nostalgia; you could easily swap Johnny Depp for Domhnall Gleeson and Kate Winslet for Margot Robbie (although the characters differ greatly). Although this story behind Winnie the Pooh doesn’t contain quite the same childish magic and glee that the story behind Peter Pan gave us, it’s still a delightful, emotional story told in a joyful, touching way.
Goodbye Christopher Robin opens with A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffering from PTSD from the horrors of WWI and trying to rid himself of the constant reminders of what he went through, spurred on by his not particularly patient wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie). To try and regain some spark and help him write again, they have a child, Christopher Robin, who they affectionately call Billy Moon. Soon Billy Moon grows up (played by incredible new young actor, Will Tilston), but Milne refuses to get to know his son and remains unable to write, causing his unforgiving wife to leave until he starts again. Of course it’s during this time that Billy’s kind nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald) has to leave for a few days – leaving Milne and his son alone in the house. It’s during this time that their father-son relationship begins to blossom as they fend for themselves in the kitchen, play cricket and pooh-sticks…and start to play with Billy’s toys, creating their own little world with Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore et al. Inspired from these few days, Milne starts writing again; Daphne returns and he and his son to become world-famous with the publication of the Winnie the Pooh books. Naturally fame hits the family hard and things get difficult and emotional.
The film as a whole addresses several themes and it’s really a bit of a mishmash – it’s not just about the creation of the Winnie the Pooh books; it’s about the impact of war, the troubles with early 20th century parenting, tricky father-son relationships, the joy and innocence of childhood, and the pain and price of fame. This all works as both a strength and a weakness of the film; in many ways it’s wonderful to have such a wealth of topics and the variety keeps things fresh and interesting. On the other hand, some themes aren’t fully explored to the extent they could be and it feels as though it’s missing something occasionally. It never really focuses on one theme and so does tend to meander around all these topics, telling a vague story; at times it seems to be more a series of scenes with just a semblance of story. Of course this is because the story itself is fairly simple, so it’s nice that they enriched the plot with so many themes; it just feels as though it could have benefited from a little more detail.
Nevertheless it’s a film that’s a joy to watch and brings with it a load of emotions – sniffles and tears seemed to permeate the cinema. This is down to a couple of things; firstly the characters and the story they go through together; but more than that all the references (some obvious, some subtle) to Winnie the Pooh and the rest of Milne’s work. From small quotations and images, to creating a little wooden hut to house one of Billy’s toys, there are plenty of nods to Winnie the Pooh and these can’t fail to bring a nostalgic tear to anyone and awaken fond childhood memories. The childhood especially is heavily romanticised and anyone can identify with Billy Moon in some way, bringing to mind all the happiness and innocence we experienced as children. This is all complimented by beautiful cinematography, making the wilds of Ashdown Forest seem absolutely stunning and really strengthening the magical quality of childhood and its inexhaustible supply of imagination and charm. In fact it’s this middle section where the world of Winnie the Pooh is created that is the strongest part.
There aren’t a great many characters in this film, making it all seem more intimate, allowing us to grow attached to the characters – though at times this can be challenging. As excellent as Gleeson is, it can be sometimes difficult to understand and empathise with him as his character is so stiff and reserved; still Gleeson gives us a wonderful contrast to this and how time with his son helps him to loosen up and re-discover his ‘inner child’. Margot Robbie’s Daphne comes across as a missed opportunity. Stunning and beautiful as always, it’s hard to imagine Robbie playing a detestable character, but this she manages to do and do well. It’s just the writing doesn’t really seem to do her credit as we aren’t given a real insight into her character. Kelly Macdonald and Will Tilston do shine though. Macdonald’s Olive grounds the film as the friendliest, least complex adult character and Tilston exceeds all expectations you would have from a nine year old in their first ever acting role. Sheer innocence and childishness emanates effortlessly from his big eyes and little movements. He really is the heart of the film and fortunately they make the most of him. Sadly every boy has to grow up, but Billy Moon’s 18 year old self played by Alex Lawther fills the shoes of his younger counterpart well, giving us the necessary angst and emotion needed.
Perhaps not quite the early Oscar contender I hoped for and it lacks some of the magic that I loved in similar film Finding Neverland. However, this is still a great film, dripping with emotion, nostalgia and a romantic view of childhood; exploring a wealth of themes and with some excellent performances (particularly from the titular Christopher Robin) and affectionate references to a childhood classic, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a lovely, bittersweet film for the whole family. Bring the tissues – this one’s going to move you.