Goodbye Christopher Robin

Jacob Richardson | 22/11/2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin delves into the life of Alan “Blue” Milne, the creator of Winnie The Pooh. Picking up after his return from service in the first World War, his inability to get over his PTSD leads him to take his party-loving wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston and Alex Lawther, at various ages of the character) to the countryside. When Daphne rebels at Alan’s new treatise on war, and heads back to London, Milne finds himself spending more and more time with his son, and slowly coming to wonder at the world his young mind has created in the woods around their house; a world filled with Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Eeyore, and of course the eponymous Winnie.

The film is an intriguing exploration of the effect of fame on someone so young. For Alan, this life is something both he and Daphne have dreamed of; one where Alan’s writing is known the world over. But it is the effect on Christopher Robin, particularly under the neglect of his parents and the demands of fame, that have such impact. Director Simon Curtis wisely chooses to focus on this in the back half of the film, and much of the internal drama stems from the inability of Christopher Robin to convey the suffering he is enduring while his parents bask in the glory of book sales, signings and interviews.


This plot line is occasionally intersected with the difficulties Alan experiences with fame, and it is a perfect complement. Milne chafes initially against the fact that the novel’s apportionment of fame is to Christopher Robin, and not to it’s author. But the journey of realisation for himself is particularly engaging, as he slowly comes to the conclusion that this life is untenable for his son. Domnhall Gleeson is a wonder, delivering a performance that is nuanced and unmissable. His ability to convey these complex emotions while still depicting a character that is unquestionably stoic in the way that father figures, and ex-servicemen, were back then is undeniably astounding, and it brings a certain pathos to his eventual redemption as a father figure.


This quality performance is likewise mimicked in the character of Olive, who is incredibly well played by Kelly Macdonald. When she discovers a revelation in the final act, conveyed only by a slight look from Alan, she breaks down so convincingly it is chilling. Her character is also very well developed; an exploration of the place of those women left adrift after the loss of so many in the Great War.


Alas, not all of the character development and performance is on par with these two. Margot Robbie, and her character, are
both incredibly one-note and unsympathetic. While the younger Christopher Robin is cute as a button, Alex Lawther seems miscast, failing to bring the disenchanted older Christopher Robin to life with any of the vivacity and love of the younger version.  Further, the film drags in places. Certain scenes seem interminably long and unnecessary. The director’s focus on giving a snail’s pace introduction to the inception of Winnie The Pooh leads to moments of boredom in the first half of the film, and the enjoyment of the character’s dealings with fame in the back half of the film leaves us longing for more, and questioning the early focus.


Goodbye Christopher Robin isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, with it’s somewhat dragging pace and occasionally poor casting. However, Domnhall Gleeson’s magnetic performance anchors a truly interesting investigation into the fame of the
character, and it’s impact on the lives of the writer and the family.