GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN – Review
And once more we dive into the overflowing sea of films “inspired by true events”, though it has a touch of the “biopic”. Much as with the recent Mark Felt and Thurgood Marshall movies, it doesn’t offer a “cradle to grave” overview of the person’s life. But it certainly covers a bigger “chunk” than those flicks, going from the first World War to the second. Plus, it can considered an “origin” story of a favorite popular culture icon as with last weekend’s PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (still miffed that it wasn’t shown to the press), and like the princess, one that’s still very favored by the younger set, starring in a still steady stream of feature films (though most go straight to home video). This is the saga of author A.A. Milne whose son inspired him to write the tale of Winnie the Pooh and his pals in the Hundred Acre Woods. Yes the “silly old bear” had a real life human friend, as we learn in GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.
The story begins far from those benign woods, as one of Britain’s most celebrated authors, A.A. Milne (Dominhall Gleeson) witnesses the all too real horrors on the bloody battlefields of WWI. At war’s end he returns to England and re-unites with his gorgeous socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie). Though he’s done with the war, it’s not done with him as he experiences a form of PTSD, going into panic mode when surprised by a loud noise (a balloon pop, etc.). London seems to be squelching his creativity, so Daphne suggests they move to the country (a change of scenery should produce lots of poems and plays). They settle into Cotchford Farm in Hartfield, East Sussex, far from the noisy city and right next to a lovely wooded area. Milne, “Blue” to his wife and friends, is more interested in fixing chicken coops than writing. Soon Daphne gives birth to a child, Christopher Robin, though they call him “Billie Moon”. After she hires a young nanny named Olive (Kelly Macdonald), a frustrated Daphne declares that she will go to London to shop for wallpaper and will not return until Blue starts writing once more. Billie, now eight (Will Tilston) becomes Blue’s main focus. Watching his son play with his stuffed animal toys in the forest fires up his creativity. When his old collaborator, artist Ernest Shephard (Stephen Campbell Moore) visits the farm, they try to bring Billie’s flights of fancy to illustrated life. The result is the literary debut of Winnie the Pooh, a smash hit. Upon Daphne’s return, they are swamped with fan mail as the press swarm about their little lad. But will this sudden success and fame destroy the family and damage the boy?
The role of the troubled Milne provides a terrific showcase for the talented Gleeson. We see the horrors of battle through his listless, haunted eyes which slowly spark back to life through the delight of fatherhood. Gleeson has that upper-crust rigid demeanor down pat as Blue begins to let his guard down to dive into that magical forest. But the most complex role may be that of his wife Daphne. She’s at times a dithering party girl, then a tough task master to her hubby (a demanding muse), Robbie treads a delicate balance between being unwittingly insensitive and unashamedly cruel. She takes a risk with this often unlikable character and it truly pays off. Bravo to her bravery. The most sympathetic performance is that of Macdonald as the truly caring care-giver whose only motivation is protecting her dear charge. And what a find Tilston is as the title character. With a shiny Jackie Coogan page-boy do’ and devastatingly deep dimples (Shirley Temple doesn’t hold a candle to those “dents”), his eyes sparkle with wonder, then he breaks our hearts as he yearns for affection from his papa. It’s a rare child performance that’s sweet, but never cloying. His C.R. is the precious boy of any parent’s dreams.
Director Simon Curtis (THE WOMAN IN GOLD) has crafted a touching true tale that is much tougher than expected. Certainly the forest strolls are magical, evoking those timeless stories. But success doesn’t make life more pleasant. Though set 90 years ago, the Milnes’ saga offers a timely commentary on the pitfalls of fame. Billie was a real “rock star” as his parents allowed and encouraged the frenzy that ate away at his childhood, even as Olive tried to shield him ( a zoo photo shoot seems unbelievable until we see the actual photo during the end credits). The art director recreates the twenties with visual splendor as the cinematographer bathes everything in a nostalgic golden glow. And unlike many films about writers, we see how life unlocks ideas rather than enduring long shots of putting pen to blank paper. GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is a splendid ‘behind the pages” look at a world that continues to entrance and delight children and adults. It’s as tasty as a dollop of fresh honey.
4 Out of 5