A rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children's author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin, whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive, 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? Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
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.
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.
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