Winnie The Pooh, I’m sure, is a staple of almost everyone’s childhood post-1924. Everyone knows Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore. Everyone knows Christopher Robin. Finding successes as books, TV shows, and films, Winnie The Pooh is as famous a character as you’ll find in popular culture. To explore the characters’ inception is to explore deep into the childhood of everyone watching, which is what Simon Curtis set out to do with ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’; the untold story of Winnie The Pooh. A behind the scenes look at how the character came to be and what happened next. ‘Goodbye’ provides interesting insights into AA Milne and his creation, but sadly falls short as the film reaches its climax.
Domnhall Gleeson stars as AA Milne, the creator of Winnie The Pooh, and the film follows his life with his wife, Daphne (Robbie) and child, Christopher Robin (Tiltson). Milne is struggling with writers block and hasn’t had a success in a long while, thus he and his family move out of London to the country in order to focus on his next project, a treatise against war. There, Milne spends more time with his now 5-year-old child, and his child’s imagination with his toys is the spark he needs to write Winnie The Pooh, starring his own son. What follows is a look into a life suddenly thrown into fame and stardom as Winnie The Pooh becomes a phenomenon, and the film tackles how well the Milne family respond to new found fame.
Beginning with the positives, I found the performances to be good across the board. Gleeson is reliable if unspectacular in a very softly spoken role. He isn’t given too much heavy lifting to do, but he sells the fish-out-of-water role well as he is forced to be a father more than he ever had been before. Robbie arguably places too much faith in her supremely posh London accent but manages to still portray a conflicted character who desires the fame she has been given potentially more than she desires her own family. The stars of the film are, by a distance, Kelly Macdonald and Will Tiltson, playing Olive (Christopher’s nanny) and Christopher himself respectively.
It stands to reason that these two characters are the most well-realised as they are the two human characters in the Winnie The Pooh series itself. I found Macdonald to be particularly captivating as a Nanny out of her depth, having to be a mother and father to a child that isn’t hers despite wanting a family of her own. Balancing looking after Christopher with effectively being Milne’s personal assistant, and family chef is sure to be difficult, and the strain on Olive’s face becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses. In spending so much time with Christopher, he becomes overly attached, which presents another problem onto her ever-growing list of them.
Will Tiltson, meanwhile, is impossibly adorable as Christopher Robin. Trying to find time to just be a kid among the hullabaloo of paparazzi and visits to New York would be a challenge to anyone, and Tiltson plays this so impressively. When Christopher simply wants to spend time running around the forest near his house with his Dad and his Nanny, Tiltson shines. He has that wide-eyed enthusiasm that comes with having your own, enormous playground, but the more fame becomes a reality to him, the less freedom he has, and his personal playground becomes a genuine tourist and paparazzi spot. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is, above anything, a story about a lost childhood. Simon Curtis found a child actor able to convey happiness and loss at the drop of a hat. One scene that stands out is his joy at Nanny reading him a bedtime story, that quickly snaps into sadness as she tells him she’s going away for a while. When Olive and Christopher are on screen, the film is at its best.
When the film works as a somewhat origin story, it works really well. It builds its characters well, establishes life changes effectively, and had me mostly engrossed. When the film has a time jump and Will Tiltson leaves us to be replaced by Alex Lawther as an 18-year-old Christopher Robin, the film loses something. Whether down to Lawther not being as convincing an actor as Tiltson was, or the story simply being less interesting, ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ loses its way.
As Christopher grows up, it becomes apparent that the fame he had as a child had a deep impact on him as a person. Christopher struggled through boarding school as he was bullied for being “that boy from that children’s book,” he laments the childhood he so desired. With better execution, this could have been an emotional knockout, particularly in a late scene where Milne and Christopher argue heatedly about Christopher’s youth and how Milne took it from him. On paper, it’s a powerful scene, but in reality, it’s rushed. Spending so much time on the childhood itself and so little on its effect later in life doesn’t allow the emotion to truly develop.
It’s a real shame. The pieces are all there for ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ to work. It has the set up, but it doesn’t have the execution. It has the ensemble, but only two of them truly shine. It should have packed an emotional punch, but it didn’t. I can imagine seeing this film on a Sunday afternoon on BBC, early in its Christmas schedule. It’s watchable and mostly entertaining, it just doesn’t go that extra mile to make it work. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ almost worked. Almost.
RHYS’ RATING: 6.2 OUT OF 10
Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tiltson, Alex Lawther.