Every now and then you come across a film that you know will just turn out to be a classic even if it isn’t initially thought to be such. I am one of the few who went to see Shawshank Redemption at the cinema and even more remarkably, I loved it from the start. Goodbye Christopher Robin tells a completely different story and perhaps a less enthralling one but for me, I haven’t felt the same feeling watch a film since that evening in February 1995.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a truly beautiful film and one that relies quite a lot on nostalgia. Both nostalgia for childhood, beautiful and rural England of the past and the art of telling a story on film.
The film starts with the a nervous-looking post lady cycling down a leafy lane clutching a telegram which in 1941 can only be an ominous sign. It is such a contrast with the overwhelming beauty of 100 Acre Wood is exactly as surely all Winnie-the-Pooh fans have always imagined, a glorious epitome of green English woodland. None of that frankly unfaithful Disney Pooh here, all is exactly as it should be.
The post lady is just the first sign that Simon Curtis’s delicious and powerfully evocative drama will captivate and charm all adult fans of AA Milne, while the latter provides fair warning that you will need a small miracle and likely a heart of stone to get through this without what the Milne family would call ‘blubbing’. By the end of the film, there was sniffing aplenty all around me.
This is because this is one of the best and beautiful British films you’ll ever see. A deeply moving and yet honestly revealing evocation of parenthood and creativity, of childhood and that enduring love for a favourite cuddly toy.
Incredibly the film isn’t relegated to over-sentimental tosh for a second and that is what makes it even better for in amongst the gentle beauty there is a real message to be found, a heartbreaking message that may have given the world of literature a childhood icon put at the price of the childhood of a little boy, Christopher Robin.
The writer AA Milne who in this film is wonderfully portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson almost didn’t survive The Somme in WW1 and for many years to come he shellshock gave us every reason to believe that a large part of him felt guilty that he did.
As an established playwright and Punch writer, he struggles to make sense of the post-war peacetime world. His publisher wants him to write something ‘wickedly funny’; he wants to write about the horrors of war. With his beautiful but high-maintenance wife, Daphne who is played onscreen here by the wonderful Margot Robbie, he moves to the country and finds he can do neither.
It must be said on a personal note, one of my friends had stood in for Margot in various films and watching Goodbye Christopher Robin it was as if she was the star of the film herself.
1920; sees their son Christopher Robin born and as many a family did of their standing in those times, a nanny was employed to take of the more inconvenient things about having a child such as parenting. The nanny is a wonderful character here and ably portrayed by Kelly Macdonald.
Fast forward a few years and Daphne finally despairs of her husband’s lack of progress and bolts back to the London parties she loves and Nanny has to beg a few days off to look after her terminally ill mother. It is here that everything comes together in a truly magical way and suddenly, father and small son are thrown together for a week or two.
What better way to keep a small boy amused than to take him off for walks in the woods and tell him tales of the wild animals that live there. Christopher Robin, nicknamed Billy Moon, however, being a clever little boy, soon realises that there are no really wild animals in Sussex and certainly not any bears like his beloved teddy.
His father, who his son knows as ‘Blue’, will have to do better and slowly he does so in scenes that are extraordinarily moving. It’s not often that the father-son relationship has a significant cinematic moment but perhaps the majority of the film is dedicated to this wonderful relationship.
What all this leads to is the creation of the soon-to-be iconic Winnie-the-Pooh but Goodbye Christopher Robin has bigger dramatic ambitions than simply marking that historic moment. For while Winnie-the-Pooh almost instantly becomes a global phenomenon, disappointments and heartbreak – in a rich variety of forms – lie ahead. Particularly for poor Christopher Robin who having finally created a loving bond with at least one of his parents find the fame and adulation overpowering. His wealthy and high-flying parents absolutely adore all the trappings of fame and celebrity but every new book, every new interview takes young Christopher further and further way from that one thing he wants in life and that is just to spend time with his father and his toy in 100 acre woods.
Everything about this film looks fabulous, both period and place are beautifully recreated and the acting is entirely delightful. Gleeson gives a performance that will not only be one of the highlightsof his career but hopefully nab him plenty of nominations especially of the home-grown variety.
Absolutely central, however, to the film’s appeal is Will Tilston, the wonderfully cinegenic young boy who plays Christopher Robin from about six to eight. He is simply the cutest little boy you will ever have seen and does a fantastic job in his first film.
An absolute must for grown-up Winnie-the-Pooh fans and anyone with a fondness for quality drama and small bears. There are also lots of social and historical insights for people of a certain class, place and time as well as something of an emotional rollercoaster towards the end.
Such a perfectly delightful film and I only read Winnie The Pooh once and that being about 35 years ago, I cannot remember a single thing so my attachment to the film is purely down to its own gentle wonder.