ReelBob: ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ ★★★
By Bob Bloom
Not all the wounds of war are visible. Some can cling to the soul or mind like barnacles, forcing a person to relive the horrors he (or she) has experienced in battle.
This was the case with A.A. Milne, an English author and playwright who served on the Western Front in France during World War I.
Returning home after the war, he was expected — especially by his wife, Daphne — to put the war behind him and resume his writing.
But what Milne saw, heard and smelled in the trenches shaped the rest of his life — and had a profound impact on the rest of the world.
Milne is best known as the author of the tales of Winnie the Pooh, which have enthralled children for generations.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin” looks at the inspiration for the magical world Milne created and its impact on his family — especially his son, Christopher Robin Milne.
It is a story of love, loss of innocence and identity.
Like many upper-class people in post-WWI England, Milne, nicknamed Blue, and Daphne, were absentee parents, hiring a nanny to raise Christopher, nicknamed Billy Moon.
Daphne is continually dragging A.A. to parties and such. He abhors the noise of London, contending it keeps him from writing, so he moves the family, who includes Olive, the nanny, to the countryside.
The relocation, however, does not seem to stir A.A., who still has trouble writing. The spoiled and frustrated Daphne departs for London to give A.A. time to think and give her more time for fun and happier days.
When a family emergency calls Olive away, A.A. is left alone with Billy Moon. It is here that the movie finally comes to life.
At first, not knowing what to do with the boy, Blue and Billy begin taking walks in the woods surrounding their property. Billy’s imaginary tales, featuring his toy animals, begin to inspire Milne.
Calling in an artist friend, Milne begins creating the world and characters of the 100 Acre Woods.
He includes Billy, called Christopher Robin, in the stories.
The Pooh stories help lift postwar England from its mental malaise, and make Milne and Billy celebrities.
Daphne, who returns home, devours the spotlight placed on her husband and son.
The conflicted Milne reluctantly goes along with all the publicity, even though he slowly realizes that it is having an adverse effect on Billy.
The boy feels uncomfortable with celebrity, as well as feeling betrayed, believing the stories were simply for him and his father.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin” is anchored by a fabulous performance by young Will Tilston as Billy. He is adorable, precocious and wise beyond his years. He knows his father is somehow damaged and tries in his innocent way to help him.
The movie’s major flaws are the performances by Domhnall Gleeson as Milne and Margot Robbie as Daphne. He is too stiff-upper-lip English with bottled-up emotions, while she is a rarely deviates from being a domineering, self-centered and selfish individual who puts herself ahead of her husband and — more importantly — her child.
Those performances are counterbalanced by Kelly Macdonald as Olive, who is more a mother to Billy than either of his parents.
It is most telling that she is the only person Billy and Christopher Robin hug throughout the film.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin” is at times simplistic — detailing, for example, how money and fame taint and corrupt — but it also celebrates the wonders of childhood that cannot be stifled by parental missteps and ignorance.
What the movie illuminates is the broad healing power of inspiration and storytelling on individuals and a struggling nation.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
3 stars out of 4
(PG), bullying, adult themes, war images, language