Goodbye Christopher Robin
Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Goodbye Christopher Robin is inspired by the true story of writer A.A. Milne’s creation of Winnie the Pooh and the effect its success had on his son, who he used as a central character in those stories.
When A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, recently seen in supporting roles in mother! and American Made and soon to be reprising his role as villainous General Hux in Star Wars: The Last Jedi) returned from fighting in World War I, he struggled to readjust to his life in London. He had written comedies before he left, but no longer felt like he had it in him. The constant noise of the city kept reminding him of terrible wartime memories, so he and his reluctant wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie, best known as Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in The Wolf of Wall Street), moved to the quiet of the countryside. After several years of writer’s block, Milne spends a couple of weeks alone with his now eight year-old son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), playing in the woods with his stuffed animals. He comes out of this inspired and uses his playtime with the boy to create the Winnie the Pooh stories. The books become a massive hit and young Christopher Robin is thrust into the media spotlight.
A.A. and Daphne are initially shown as absentee parents, leaving their son in the care of his loving nanny, Olive (Kelly MacDonald, the voice of Merida in Pixar’s Brave), while they run off to parties. A.A. is forced to take care of Christopher Robin only after his frustrated wife abandons them for the city and Olive returns home for a short time to take care of her dying mother. There are moments when both parents show affection for their boy, but I never got the sense that they were a real family. It seems more like A.A. and Daphne did their own thing while Olive raised Christopher Robin, unless it was convenient for them to be with their son. I think the movie is saying that the publicity of Winnie the Pooh ruined his childhood, but it did not seem particularly good before that.
Unfortunately, Goodbye Christopher Robin (100 minutes without the end credits) does not provide much in the way of depth for this story. A.A. wrote Winnie the Pooh because he thought the world needed an influx of happiness after the war. Daphne was far more interested in using it to make money and had no issue exploiting her son if necessary. The boy, meanwhile, dislikes the attention. And that is basically the whole film.
I am not entirely sure what director Simon Curtis (who also directed 2011’s Marilyn Monroe film My Week with Marilyn) and writers Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan were trying to accomplish here. After seeing it, I do not feel like I know any more about Milne or the creation of his beloved books. I also learned very little about his family. Christopher Robin is presented as a “cute movie kid,” Daphne is a selfish social climber, Olive, while sweet, is the cliché caring nanny and A.A. is powerless and broken due to his experiences in the war. But there is no real insight into any of these people or their lives. This may be a true story, but it feels more like an underwritten movie than real life.
2 out of 5
Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne
Margot Robbie as Daphne Milne
Will Tilston as 8 year-old Christopher Robin
Alex Lawther as 18 year-old Christopher Robin
Kelly MacDonald as Olive
Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan