Goodbye Christopher Robin

Review by Trevor Johnston

Directed by

Simon Curtis

Starring

Domhnall Gleeson Kelly Macdonald Margot Robbie

Anticipation.

The true story behind Winnie the Pooh? We’re intrigued…

Enjoyment.

At times it’s as if the film lacks a centre, but Christopher Robin’s travails do pack a punch.

In Retrospect.

The facts are an awkward fit on screen, but we’re definitely the richer for knowing them.

The creation of Winnie the Pooh is the fascinating subject of this unfocused screen biography.

If AA Milne had actually managed to write his intended magnum opus about The Great War then there would have been no Winnie the Pooh. What we learn from this solid literary biopic is that he set out to deliver a worthy tome reflecting his traumatic World War One experiences and vision for future world peace, but got crippling writer’s block when faced by the scale of the task.

Instead, he lowered his sights and knocked out a mood-altering bit of fluff instead, capturing the woodland adventures of his small son’s soft toys – a honey-loving bear, bouncy tiger, dinky piglet and so on. Great news, in the end, for subsequent generations of early-years readers, who’ve taken their first steps in to the wonderful world of books via ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’, and a major payday, of course, for Milne himself.

The startling reveal in the movie however, is that all this success wasn’t such a terrific deal for his son Christopher Robin, who spent much of his childhood doing interviews and PR appearances in service of the books’ considerable US sales – then had an even worse time of it when he went to boarding school and got mercilessly bullied when his classmates found out exactly who he was.

Overall, it’s a film that’s as unsettled in its storytelling as it is unsettling in its material, and if it feels that they never quite knocked the script into shape, it’s still a welcome surprise when something which looks very much like grey-pound catnip is spiked with something rather more bitter. Pooh-sticks will never quite be the same again.

There’s a resentful undertow here, which is fascinating, and perhaps not what you’d expect, but does rather play against director Simon Curtis’ heritage England visuals which capture bucolic countryside and posh folk at their tweedy leisure, all done over in sun-dappled light to the strains of a pastoral string-laden score (the great Carter Burwell on a bit of an off-day).

You could give the film the benefit of the doubt, since the unthreatening National Trust vibe perhaps acts as a lure for the audience, before slipping them something tougher and darker than anticipated. Yet the facts themselves, illuminating though they are, present their own issues when it comes to finding an emotional centre for the narrative. We start out rooting for Domhnall Gleeson’s slightly stuffy Milne senior, for instance, as he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and seems to take genuine comfort in the world of the ‘Pooh’ stories, yet he soon proves a shockingly unsympathetic parent, and Margot Robbie’s brittle, self-absorbed wife and mother is even more of a horror show.

Viewer disengagement looms, but thankfully there’s Kelly McDonald to save the day as the sensible, decent, Scottish nanny who says all the right things, but is also undeniably peripheral to the action. Meanwhile dimple-cheeked, sickeningly cute Will Tilston does a sterling job as the young Christopher Robin, but the character really only has the maturity to comment on his situation when subsequently played as a troubled teen by Alex Lawther.

Published 28 Sep 2017

Tags: Simon Curtis

Anticipation.

The true story behind Winnie the Pooh? We’re intrigued…

Enjoyment.

At times it’s as if the film lacks a centre, but Christopher Robin’s travails do pack a punch.

In Retrospect.

The facts are an awkward fit on screen, but we’re definitely the richer for knowing them.

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