Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughn
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, and Will Tilston
Film Review by Euan Franklin
It’s deeply ingrained in the British psyche: the dreaded stiff upper-lip. During the two World Wars, it was considered essential to the preservation of character. You must never lose face, lest it result in a loss of reputation. The same rules apply to shell-shocked soldiers, as they were called. What does this have to do with Winnie-the-Pooh and Goodbye Christopher Robin? Everything.
After returning from the Great War, author and playwright A. A. Milne (Domnhall Gleeson) sets about writing an anti-war book – but can’t concentrate. He and his fun-loving wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), have a child and leave him to be tended to by a nanny while gallivanting with fellow aristocrats in fancy London parties. But Milne still struggles with trauma from the war, perturbed by noises that sound like gunshots and artillery fire. He moves his family to the country, much to Daphne’s chagrin. When the nanny, Olive (Kelly MacDonald), has to tend to a family emergency, Milne has to take care of the child himself – resulting in the conception of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is much darker than the subject-matter suggests. Traumatised by the war, Milne can barely function after his experiences at the Somme. But the darkness burning within him is assuaged by his son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), during walks in Ashdown Forest. They learn how to communicate by playing in each other’s imaginations. The script by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughn is strongest during these scenes. The dialogue is beautiful to listen to and there’s a real, mythical poetry in their words. Beforehand, the first act has lines that feel rough and out-of-place but they’re promptly forgotten once the story gets going.
The film nearly collapses because of Daphne, who irritates the movie as a cartoon sociopath. In real life, she was a woman who suffered some mental health issues, particularly after giving birth. But these are never explained or explored in the movie and, as a result, she appears as a one-dimensional disaster, with most scenes left wounded by her presence.
Boyce and Vaughn have tried their hardest to cram the whole story into two hours, rushing the emotional moments between the characters. The scenes are too quick to get stuck in to. Saying that, there is a beating heart to this movie. Simon Curtis shines as a director in scenes where the stiff upper-lip must be adhered to, in spite of heart-rending emotions. The characters can’t let their feelings loose because it isn’t proper. And it’s these moments that are the warmest and most intelligent to behold.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is flawed, but improves after they move to the countryside. If you’re able to ignore Daphne’s offensive speeches and annoying personality, you can cope with the rest of the film. The moments between father and son are where the movie excels, building to a tear-jerking finale. And you’ll need to read Winnie-the-Pooh again to cheer yourself up.