Goodbye Christopher Robin review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Ah, the sordid history behind the world’s grandest novels. There’s plenty of stories to tell of authors that took dark routes to get their visions down on paper and to the people. By comparison to other authors with controversial tellings, the tale of how Winnie the Pooh came to become a household name and children’s novel staple for generations to come is not as muddy. It could explain why Goodbye Christopher Robin takes a rather soft approach to the true story of the conception of the legendary Pooh books.
The author of the books was Alan Milne, played in the film by a charming and confounded Domhnall Gleeson. Having survived World War I, he gets back to his true passion of writing but it’s not so easy to get back into the swing of things with his PTSD reaching high levels of shell shock. It doesn’t help that his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) is a bit too controlling, growing discomforted by the fact that she wanted a daughter while instead, she conceives a boy. The boy’s name is Christopher (Will Tilston) but she prefers to call him Billy Moon.
Hoping to finish his new novel, the family takes off for the countryside where Daphne hopes Alan will have some peace and quiet for his anti-war writing. It doesn’t go well. That is until Daphne leaves and Alan takes on fathering duties of Christopher. And through the simple play in the forest of imagination and stuffed animals, Alan learns to now only adjust to a life without guns and explosions but also hatch a new idea. Rather than a book about war, his priorities shift to a children’s book about a silly old bear and his adventures in the woods. And for that personal touch, Christopher plays a role in the book as well.
From here, you can see how thing spiral out of control. The books gain a massive following and fame casts its dark cloud over the still-developing Christopher, not yet ready to be pegged as the famous character from the books. His parents neglected him, finding little time to spend with their boy outside of public and press events, always with snapping cameras. It's even more tragic when you consider how much of a cross and uncaring woman Daphne turns out to be that the nanny delivers one heck of a blunt calling out of a woman gone mad with power.
And yet the film seems rather standoffish when it comes to this drama, almost fearful to favor the darker aspects of Alan, carefully staging the events to not be too dramatic and meet a PG rating. Consider how the film begins with a tease of a tragic letter coming to the Milne family from the front lines. It’s a tease, however, for what the film could have been had it taken the somber route. Because even when Christopher makes the tougher choices about where he wants to go in life, deciding to go to war if only to get away from his parents, the film is almost too understanding of this path. By the time Christopher returns from war, there’s too neat an ending to suggest that everything was hunky dory when all is quiet on the Hundred Acre front.
Warning to parents: Do not confuse this with Disney’s Christopher Robin. While both films feature a similar road of drama and bluntness, this film is more about the softly staged conception of Winnie the Pooh as opposed to the lukewarm continuation of Pooh’s adventures. I’d highly recommend the Disney film more as there’s more to admire in Pooh’s innocence than this film’s lacking attempt to showcase the tougher tales behind the book. You’ll feel more for Pooh than you’ll think you’re supposed to feel for the real Christopher Robin who seemed to get screwed over more than the movie lets on.