Goodbye Christopher Robin (United Kingdom 2017)
Goodbye Christopher Robin is the story behind the creation of Winnie the Pooh and the profound negative effect it had on the little boy who inspired it, A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher “Billy Moon” Robin Milne. The film is a really good piece of work, hampered only by the 1-dimensional non-arc of Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the mother, who rivals Faye Dunaway doing Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest as an exercise in maternal cruelty.
The root of the story is in A.A. Milne’s experience in World War I, a war that is finally, rightfully popping up in more and more modern films (it was used expertly in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, for example, and in much the same manner as here). As happens to many men who have experienced the horrors of war, Milne comes home both shell-shocked suffering PTSD and vehemently antiwar owing to his disbelief that so many men were sent to the meat-grinder for … nothing. As he says of all the loss, “nothing changed.”
[Allow me a political aside … the older I get the more anti-war I get. I’m not so much a peacenik but I am among what I think is a growing cadre of adults on the right who do not want America involving herself senselessly in wars not specific to homeland defense … in that sense, movies that reference World War I and the antipathy to conflict it left those who fought in it speak to me …. I’ll leave it at that.]
It’s tempting to detail how we go from this to Milne creating the universe of Winnie the Pooh, but that would spoil the most charming part of the film – Pooh goes from a creation of whimsy to an international sensation almost at-once, and Milne’s decision to use his son’s proper name of Christopher Robin is a fateful one, because it becomes clear that every child in England wants to be Christopher Robin, thrusting Billy Moon into the international spotlight at the tender age of 8.
It is here where things grow complicated. His nanny sees the poisonous effect the wealth being brought in by Winnie the Pooh is having on Milne and his wife, and even worse she sees the devastation it is wreaking on Billy Moon’s development – he is losing his sense of self due to how he is presented in the books, and it is worsened when his every move seems to double as publicity for Pooh.
I don’t think the effects of Winnie the Pooh (two original books written by Milne) on Milne’s son are well-known, which is why I am revealing so little about the story. All I knew going in was the universe was based on his son’s stuffed animals so my not knowing it wasn’t surprising, but the person I saw it with is a Winnie the Pooh fanatic of sorts and she didn’t know either.
I don’t think Robbie is given much to work with as the wife/mother, but her choice to play the woman so severely (I’m tempted to say “monstrously”) hampers the cohesiveness of the film, especially considering everyone else – Milne, Billy, the nanny Lady O, the illustrator – is presented so sympathetically. Robbie’s severity leads to multiple scenes that feel slightly off, which means it’s either a testament to her cruelty if true or unfortunate and unfair to the woman if not. This is material that happened nearly 100 years ago, mind you, and all of the major figures in it have been dead for decades.
That critique I suspect is universal, although I’ve not read any review of the film. Casting the negative aside, enough cannot be said of Will Tilston, the young actor playing Billy Moon for most of the film. I tend to find child actors somewhere between grating and non-existent, yet it is Tilston and his chemistry with Domnhall Gleeson as Milne that carries the film, making it much better than the script probably warranted.
Although the film is centered around one of the most popular childrens universes ever created, I don’t think the film would appeal to children.