Goodbye Christopher Robin - This Movie Bear Rocks
Dir: Simon Curtis
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Alex Lawther, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Will Tilston, Simon Williams
A A Milne returned from WWI with PTSD, where the merest sound of a champagne bottle being opened, a balloon popping of the bright lights of the West End theatres he wrote for could send him right back to the horrors of the trenches. He sat out to write a book to end all wars, but instead wrote about what became the world’s favourite bear. Sadly, along the way, the recalcitrant father managed to pimp out his son, Christopher Robin by name but known as Billy Moon to those around him, as his Winnie The Pooh stories became a post-War global sensation.
This little known true story of the man who made Pooh forms the basis of Curtis’s movie, and it is sensitively and often movingly told. The director finds very effective ways of moving between the idyll of life in the 100 Acre Wood (a real place by the way – still available for tourist parties) and the nightmare of the front, much in the same way that his film also flicks back and forth between the reality of Billy Moon’s childhood and the fantasy of his father’s stories.
All of this is made possible by an exemplary cast, none more so that a splendid Gleeson giving the performance of his career (to date.) As Milne he is both reserved and haunted, trying to express love but nearly always too repressed to fully reveal whatever feelings he keeps beneath that oh-so damaged surface. Margot Robbie equally impresses as the even more reserved Mrs Milne, a woman who position and experience in the society of the day leads to her life long distance from her son. It would be easy to view her as an unpleasant character, but Robbie is assured enough to once again show us the cracks beneath the societal facade, to get beyond the woman who constantly points out that she must love her son because she gave birth to him “and it almost killed me.”
Said son is played primarily by first-timer Will Tilson, who is delightful and winning as the young C R Milne, perfectly able to capture the spirit of that long lost innocence of childhood the film seeks to evoke, and that Milne Snr needed to write about.
As the nanny who became his de-facto mum, the always wonderful Kelly MacDonald is suitably, well, wonderful.
The movie takes a distinct change of tack when Alex Lowther takes over as an older Christopher Robin, the young actor expertly conveying the damage that his life as the “star” of the world’s most popular book – and the way he parents inadvertently exploited that fame – brought upon him. It casts a very effective shadow over the film, just as another World War looms into view.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is an elegant film, finely played and finely judged. It is obviously emotional, but avoids being mawkish, tears will be shed, but in all the right ways and for all the right reasons. For anyone who ever found the ending of Winnie The Pooh to be a sad one, this is the film for you.
Follow us on Twitter @lastwordonearth