“GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN” is Beautiful, Sad, Tragic, and Hopeful

When our first daughter was six months old, my husband read the “Winnie the Pooh” books to her. Yes, as an infant, she didn’t understand the stories, but the memory of my baby staring wide-eyed at her daddy as he read about Pooh and his adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood has stuck with me to this day. Winnie the Pooh became a beloved staple in our home, as I am certain the tubby little fluffy bear is in countless other homes. Our family loved all things relating to Pooh and his stuffed friends. I had heard that the real Christopher Robin hated the stories based on his childhood, but it wasn’t until I watched Fox Searchlight’s GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN—inspired by the true story—that I understood why.

Directed by Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold, My Week with Marilyn) and written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce (The Railway Man, Millions) and Simon Vaughan (A Bear Named Winnie), GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN stars Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, The Revenant), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad), Kelly Macdonald (Nanny McPhee, No Country for Old Men), Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game), Stephen Campbell Moore (The Season of the Witch), and introduces new comer, Will Tilston.

About GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Suffering from PTSD after serving during WWI, writer/playwright A.A. Milne (Gleeson) moves his wife Daphne (Robbie), son Christopher Robin (Tilston)—whom his parents often refer to as Billy—and their nanny (Macdonald) from London to a farmhouse in the Sussex countryside. Intending to fight his personal demons by writing anti-war articles and books, Milne is instead drawn to the beautiful and soothing woods on their one hundred acres. Daphne, a social butterfly, is unhappy being sequestered in the country and leaves her husband and young son to go back to London. When Nanny leaves for a short visit to tend her sick mother, Milne is left to care for his young son. During this time, father and son begin spinning fanciful yarns about Billy’s growing collection of stuffed animals. These stories form the basis for “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner,” published respectively in 1926 and 1928. The stories become an instant success and Milne and his family are soon swept up in the promotion of the books. Can the family survive the onslaught of notoriety from the enchanting tales which brought hope and comfort to the rest of postwar England?

GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is at once beautiful and sad; tragic and hopeful.

The production values of the film are solid. It is beautiful to look at, filled with soft colors and pastoral scenes. There are also shots of Christopher Robin with his bear and other stuffed animals that reflect illustrations from the original Pooh books.

Domhnall Gleeson, Will Tilston and Margot Robbie in the film GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Photo by David Appleby. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The acting is solid. Gleeson gives a heart-rending performance, reflecting the struggles of many soldiers returning from the battlefield. Robbie portrays Daphne Milne as a self-centered socialite whose only concern with motherhood is an occasional hug from her child and how his performance for publicity shots affects their burgeoning bank account. Macdonald’s portrayal of Nanny Olive is warm and compassionate as the only adult who truly cares for Christopher Robin the child. Tilston portrays 8-year-old Christopher Robin with a natural realism that is true to children.

The story line has some issues. The first few minutes were discordant, with the film jumping between three different time periods; one part of it was not clear until much later into the story. The timeline settles down after that, with Milne trying to resume his life after fighting in WWI. It’s obvious that Daphne doesn’t know how to deal with her changed husband and soon she is dealing with her own issue of giving birth to a son when she had wanted a daughter. The couple is entirely self-centered. They hire a nanny who will care for their baby while they engage in the London social scene and take extended trips abroad. While the screenwriters made Milne a sympathetic man suffering from PTSD, they portrayed Daphne as heartless when, in reality, she was probably dealing with post-natal depression.

The film explains why the real Christopher Robin didn’t care for the books his father wrote. The books’ popularity made him the center of unwanted attention; everyone clamored to meet ‘the real Christopher Robin.’ His parents agreed to their son being part of a massive promotional campaign with countless interviews, public appearances, and photo ops that included being told to stand by a real bear. The head of the zoo told his parents, “He’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t make any sudden movements.”

Despite this dysfunctional family, it is the growing father-son relationship that is at the heart of GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. There are some beautiful scenes when they are playing with Pooh, Tigger, Owl, Eeyore, creating the world of the Hundred Acre Wood. There are some tragic moments when Milne is gripped by his PTSD. In one scene, Milne is walking with Christopher in the woods when he hears a whizzing sound. He freezes, as memories of battle return. Then his little son takes his hand and tells him that it’s okay; it’s only bees.

GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN ends with hope; the hope of healing broken souls, broken hearts, broken relationships.

Releasing on October 13, the film has a run time of 107 minutes. Despite its subject matter, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is ultimately more for adults than for children. It is rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language.

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