Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)
Directed by: Simon Curtis | 103 minutes | drama, biography | Actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Kelly Macdonald, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard McCabe, Shaun Dingwall, Geraldine Somerville, Vicki Pepperdine, Mossie Smith, Stanley Hamlin, Dexter Hyman, Sonny Hyman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Anyone who has always wanted to know who invented Winnie the Pooh will be served in the 2018 film year. Not one, but even two films tell the story of the still much-loved yellow bear that once originated from the brain of British author AA Milne. Although both films try to capture the nostalgic vibe, luckily they both have their own approach. Striking fact is that Milne’s son Christopher Robin plays a crucial role in both films. Where Marc Forster-directed ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) jumps in time to an adult Christopher who has completely lost touch with the child in him, Simon Curtis’s ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ (2017) focuses on the how the success of Winnie the Pooh ruined Milne’s son’s childhood. Because the little boy from the books – Janneman Robinson in Dutch – based the writer on his own son. And Pooh, Tigger (Tigger), Piglet (Piglet), Eeyore (Eeyore) and all the others were stuffed animals that Milne and his wife had bought for their son.
In ‘Goodbye, Christopher Robin’, Domhnall Gleeson plays Alan Milne, an acclaimed playwright who came out of World War I severely traumatized. Back in London, he makes one pacifist speech after another, which doesn’t endear him to the society parties he and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) attend. Moreover, he is startled by any sound that even slightly stirs the memory of the terrible trench warfare. Only illustrator and fellow veteran EH Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) seems to understand him. Daphne, on the other hand, thinks he should just ignore his fears and is annoyed that her husband is no longer interested in the mundane parties she loves so much. Moreover, Milne is struggling with writer’s block. He would like to write more serious work rather than comedic plays and hopes to find inspiration in the countryside. Reluctantly, Daphne agrees; in a rural setting, she can devote herself completely to caring for their son (Will Tilston), affectionately known by his parents as ‘Billy Moon’. But she doesn’t last very long; she is annoyed by Alan’s lack of productivity and the bustling city life continues to beckon.
The care of Billy Moon is handed over to a sweet nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald), who develops into the only adult in Billy’s life who brings some peace and stability. Although Alan is initially shocked that his wife will leave him alone with their son, a special bond slowly but surely develops between the two. The wooden and pedantic writer gets closer to the child that lurks within himself through the interaction with his son and gets a great idea for new work: he creates a fantasy world around Billy Moon’s teddy bear. Shepard makes the drawings and that’s how Winnie the Pooh comes to life. We all know that the books are a success. It doesn’t take long for Alan to be completely absorbed in all the attention for his creation. Billy has to show up for promotional activities and for a while is the most famous boy in the world. What no one seems to see is that Billy isn’t looking for that at all: all he wants is his father’s undivided attention. When Olive also gets other priorities (read: a man in her life), Billy feels very let down.
‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ looks lovely, with warm and slightly too bright light and a dreamy tinge. Director Simon Curtis – known for ‘My Week with Marilyn’ (2011) and ‘Woman in Gold’ (2015) – also applies a touch of magical realism in the warmest scenes between Alan and his son. In those scenes, the cool writer finally seems to thaw somewhat and gets closer to young Billy Moon. Because if anything sticks to the screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, who based the story on the memoirs of the real Christopher Robin Milne, it’s that he doesn’t exactly come from a warm nest. With a father who is naturally stiff and reserved and also has to deal with severe war trauma and a mother who would rather go to high society parties in hip London than take care of her son, it is no wonder he has a stronger bond with the caring and warm nanny Olive than with his parents. When he’s also unwillingly dragged back and forth for all kinds of promotional activities around his father’s books (“See the real Christopher Robin here”), it’s no surprise that he runs away from his parents’ house as soon as that opportunity. presents itself.
Boyce and Vaughan distinguish between Billy Moon on the one hand and Christopher Robin on the other. It is the same boy, but there is a clear difference. Although his real name is Christopher Robin, he feels like Billy Moon. Especially when his father decides to name the fictional boy in the Winnie the Pooh book series Christopher Robin. It also explains why the boy’s life in the film is different from how he actually fared (and the title of the film). Everyone will understand that there is a lot of frustration behind the boy’s behavior – especially at a later age – but the too easy way in which the film ends things are not entirely satisfactory.
Nostalgia reigns supreme in ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ and the film focuses heavily on the emotions of the viewer. What especially sticks out is the tragedy and the irony: everyone used to want to be Christopher Robin, except Christopher Robin himself. That the oppressive hysteria of fans and media can have a paralyzing effect is something of all times, is once again underlined here. The celebrated Milne had his shortcomings, but it is thanks to Gleeson that his character still gets the necessary depth. He may have been a crippled father, but some of his flaws are due to the fact that he was weighed down by his war traumas. The makers know how to arouse less sympathy for the motives of mother Daphne. Robbie is beautiful, but fails to bring warmth or layering to her character, unlike the ever-great Kelly Macdonald, the only one who sees Christopher Robin/Billy Moon as he is: a child who craves parental attention and love . Tilston is a child star like many and it’s a shame the talented Alex Lawther, who plays eighteen-year-old Christopher Robin, doesn’t get more to do. Boyce and Vaughan hid quite a few references to Milne’s work in the film, but if you don’t have his oeuvre fresh on your mind, you probably miss a lot.