“Goodbye Christopher Robin” shows a different, darker reality.
The real-life Christopher Robin was an only child, often rejected by his mother and barely tolerated by his famous father. The mother, Daphne, spent long periods in London away from the family; she resented her husband’s moving the family to the countryside. True, the father spent time with the boy, drawing inspiration from the imagined adventures of his son and his stuffed toy animals. But Christopher Robin generally received only cool, rather distant attention from his parents. Indeed, they packed him off to boarding school as soon as convenient, where he was bullied. Any love and warmth enjoyed by the boy came almost exclusively from a devoted nanny, Olive, who basically brought up the young Christopher and earned his undying love.
In later years, the mature Christopher Robin deeply resented his parents for having exploited his (Christopher’s) youth during the years of literary fame and media attention. It led to a major estrangement between adult son and parents which lasted most of Christopher Robin’s life. Even A.A. Milne, himself, came to resent to some extent his success with Winnie the Pooh and company: he felt it overshadowed all his previous literary work (Milne was a successful and prolific writer for the theatre before he created Winnie the Pooh).
The film recounts all this unflinchingly and without pulling punches. Milne and his wife do not come out of the story all that well; Christopher Robin is very much the wronged party. The performances are excellent. Domhnall Gleeson is edgy, brittle and coolly remote as the writer/father disturbed by memories of his time in the trenches of World War I. Margot Robbie – who I am more familiar with as a blonde bimbo/bombshell in action thrillers – is very, very good as Daphne, the wife who resents motherhood, country living, and, often, her husband. As the young Christopher Robin, there is the cute, enchanting, and very talented child actor, Will Tilston. He steals every scene he is in. Then there is the solid, understated performance from Kelly Macdonald as Olive the nanny.
The director, Simon Curtis (he directed another good bio pic, “My Week with Marilyn”), is in good command of his material. He tells a complex, tortured family story in under two hours. Photography is very good, particularly the beautiful scenes set in picturesque rural England. I found the film enthralling and fascinating: you learn some intriguing literary history, as well as how badly the English upper classes treated their children back then. The fact that the movie also tells the story – even though a dark one – about the creation of much-loved fictional characters, is a welcome bonus.
I give this film 4 ¾ stars out of five.