Some stories are better left untold. Did we really need to know that Joan Crawford was a lousy mother? I suppose there are plenty of people who would say we did. However cathartic writing “Mommie Dearest” may have been for daughter Christina, I don’t know that it changed anyone’s opinion of her mother though. The same can be said of “Winnie-the-Pooh” creator A. A. (Alan “Blue”) Milne and his wife Daphne. According to the film, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, the Milnes were awful parents to their son “Moon”, whom the world knew as Christopher Robin. Did we need to know this? I’m not so sure. In any case, if this film should change people’s opinion of Milne, I doubt it will have any effect on their love of the thoughtful, honey-loving bear and his friends.
In GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, Domhnall Gleeson (STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI; MOTHER!; AMERICAN MADE; STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS; BROOKLYN; EX MACHINA) plays Milne Sr. Returning home to London after fighting in the Great War, Milne tries to resume his once-successful career as a playwright but, haunted by memories of the bombs and shells that fell around him, he’s not able to find the focus to put pen to paper. Daphne (Margot Robbie, I, TONYA; THE LEGEND OF TARZAN; THE BIG SHORT), who loves the high life that his fame has brought her, supports him in his efforts but to no avail. Before long, she gets pregnant, later giving birth to Christopher Robin, whom they call “Billy”. Daphne, though, is disappointed to have a son rather than a daughter and she decides to turn the lad’s care over to Olive (Kelly Macdonald, TV’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE), a nanny. As Billy (Will Tilston, in his screen debut) gets older, Milne finds their home too noisy to concentrate so he relocates the family to a house in the country. Daphne, however, misses the London social scene, quickly returning to the city and leaving the family behind. Billy, now about 5 and going by the name “Moon”, has only Olive and his stuffed animals as his friends but that situation changes too, when Olive takes some time off to care for her ailing mother. Now just the two men at home, Blue and Moon go for walks in the nearby woods. There, Blue makes up stories about Christopher Robin’s adventures with his stuffed animal friends.
Milne realises that he’s onto something with the stories and he pens the first of what would become four books about Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, Roo and Christopher Robin too. An immediate hit with the public, children across Britain want to meet the real Christopher Robin. Though Moon would prefer to live in anonymity, Blue and especially Daphne think otherwise and they essentially pimp their son out to the media and adoring public. This puts distance between the boy and his parents, and makes Moon the target of older boys at his boarding school, a situation that only adds to his resentment of how his parents have treated him.
Aside from telling a story that probably didn’t need to be told, this is one downer of a film. There is no subtlety or magic to this story. As the closing credits rolled, I even said to one of my colleagues that the problem with this film is that Disney didn’t make it. The scenes involving how the Pooh characters got their names, for example, are done with minimal creativity. Maybe it really was that way but it doesn’t make for interesting viewing. (Growing up, we put more thought into our pets’ names than the Milnes’ apparently did for Winnie & Co.) On the acting side, while it’s difficult to like the Milnes, it’s equally difficult to find much good to say about Gleeson’s and Robbie’s performances here but that may be more to do with the writing. There isn’t a lot of nuance to their characters. Again, maybe this is how they were but it doesn’t make for interesting viewing. Unfortunately, little Tilston’s performance isn’t any better than the grownups’. His repertoire consists of two expressions – cherubically cute and pouty. I’ll cut him some slack, though, because it’s his first film and he’s young. It also doesn’t help that director Simon Curtis (WOMAN IN GOLD) doesn’t age the character at all during those early years.
As much as I wasn’t impressed with the film, it’s not horrible. It’s just very mediocre. In August, Disney will be releasing its own Christopher Robin story, which I understand is inspired by the Pooh characters. I’m looking forward to recapturing the magic that was lost here.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, March 15th at 8:30 am HK time!
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