Goodbye Christopher Robin is a touching tale of the father-son relationship which resulted in the creation of the now world-famous Winnie the Pooh. On paper this is a film which has every opportunity to miss the mark and come across as another soppy cliché. Instead, the result is a genuine and heart wrenching tale which sees the young Christopher Robin forge a relationship with his PTSD suffering father through the imagined tales of his toy bear, only for their new-found fame to interfere.
The core of the film is the relationship between A.A Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston). Gleeson excellently portrays the confident wit of an experienced writer struggling with PTSD, writer’s block and his strained relationship with his son. While Gleeson is the Star it is Tilston’s performance that is at the heart of this film. Tilston’s natural performance draws us in and lays the foundations for the film’s later heart-wrenching third act. Considering that many child actors come across as wooden or forced during their on-screen performances, Tilston’s understated acting deserves a significant amount of praise.
Kelly Macdonald performs well as Christopher Robin’s Nanny, though her role is limited. Daphne Milne (Margot Robbie) disappoints with poorly fleshed out characterisation. As a result, she often comes across as heartless simply to serve the plot and give the story a villain it does not need. This is no fault of Robbie’s, but rather is a script issue which affects the development of other characters too. Indeed, outside of the two leads, the film’s actors all struggle for effective character development. In a way this can be looked past – if the leads were not given this development, the story would suffer greatly.
The soundtrack of Goodbye Christopher Robin is enjoyable. There are some memorable moments where well-timed music excellently conveys Milne’s fear as he struggles with his PTSD or Christopher Robin’s fear and loneliness when forced into the spotlight. Beyond this, it only serves a simple purpose to provide atmosphere. The film’s cinematography, beyond a small number of stand-out moments is of a similar standard. Although this is to be expected, the focus of the film is the performance of the two leads, and not the artistic atmosphere lent by music and theatrics.
As a story, Goodbye Christopher Robin flows very well. As with most biopics, events have been expectedly moved and changed slightly to suit the big screen adaptation. As a result, some parts in the middle of the film seem slightly disjointed as we jump through time. Despite this, the story retains it’s original premise as a touching tale of a father and son forging a relationship and the heart-breaking decline of that relationship when faced with their new-found fame. While some one-dimensional characters slightly pull down the overall quality, the film is carried by Tilston’s excellent performance and his evocative chemistry with Gleeson. Biopics are rarely perfect and always a difficult balancing act, but this is certainly one of the better productions to date.
I would recommend that people see the film solely on the basis of Tilston’s performance as he is sure to be a future star, but elsewhere too the film succeeds on numerous levels. Some people may see this as an unnecessary story to tell or Hollywood scraping the bottom of the barrel for another author biopic. In a way these arguments hold credibility as the more famous bear does take a backseat, and I would suggest to anyone hoping to see a film about the creative process behind Milne’s famous forest animals may adjust their expectations accordingly. This is a story much more akin to what 2004’s Finding Neverland did for J.M Barrie & Peter Pan.
If you accept this film as a character study of a man changed by war and his estranged son who struggles to find his place in the world, then I cannot recommend this film enough. Rarely does such a seemingly cliché idea deliver as so wonderfully genuine and touching as Goodbye Christopher Robin does. As a warning, potential viewers should prepare themselves for the tear-jerker that is the third act of the film.
Final Rating: ☆☆☆☆