Goodbye Christopher Robin

 

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Film and author meet to present a somewhat glossier aspect of a very dark story.

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Nightmares are made of this: Domhnall Gleeson, Will Tilston and Edward Bear

 

In an age when childhood is fast becoming an outmoded concept, Goodbye Christopher Robin arrives at a timely juncture. Christopher Robin is for many the epitome of childhood innocence. But be warned: this is very much a grown-up film dealing with a fistful of disturbing issues, like war, post-traumatic stress disorder, marital discord, parental neglect, class cruelty and child exploitation. Even so, the film seems to be working against its own agenda. Here we have the sunny vistas of an idyllic England, the ambrosial music of Carter Burwell, the sylvan locations of Ashdown Forest and the stunning cheekbones of Hollywood glamour puss Margot Robbie – all wrapped around a gritty, kitchen-sink horror film.

 

In short, the movie would like to have its tea and crumpets and eat it. Much like A.A. Milne, the austere father of Christopher Robin and the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, the film exploits the commercial appeal of the Bear of Very Little Brain while bringing us something entirely more weighty.

 

A.A. Milne, a screenwriter, contributor to Punch and writer of detective fiction, wanted to be remembered for something a little more consequential and so embarked on an anti-war treatise, albeit while plagued by writer’s block. It was during one of these creative lapses that his flapper wife, Daphne, huffed off to London leaving him alone with their young son, Billy, whom he barely seemed to know. Matters were further exacerbated when Billy’s beloved nanny, ‘Nou’, departed to care for her ailing mother, leaving author and child stranded in the Sussex countryside. What was a man to do? It serves the dramatic impact of the film that we, the audience, knows what this dire turn of events ultimately led to, namely A.A. Milne’s plagiarism of his own child’s imagination, leading to the most beloved children’s stories in history. But then the film throws us another curve ball by examining in forensic detail the transformation of the innocent Billy into an exploited international celebrity.

 

Personally, I found all this far more upsetting than Stephen King’s It, in spite of any rescue attempts by the treacly music and the Trinity Boys Choir. Having said that, it is a story that needs to be told. Much is conveyed when Milne is forbidden from witnessing his wife give birth, as is a later scene when he arrives at the home of Nou to impart some terrible news. Nothing is said, but the emotional impact is enormous, precisely because words seem totally inadequate.

 

Domhnall Gleeson, currently also available in American Made and Mother! and soon to be seen as General Hux in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is perfect as the stuffed shirt unable to master his feelings, and Kelly Macdonald steals the film as Nou. Less effective is the Australian actress Margot Robbie as Billy’s mother, whose upper-crust English accent seems to arrive from an alternative universe, and is just, well, too Hollywood for such an intimate English piece. Nonetheless, director Simon Curtis, whose previous forays into real-life drama include My Week with Marilyn (2011) and Woman in Gold (2015), exhibits a new maturity as a director, making more with less, in spite of the commercial demands of his producers.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Alex Lawther, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard McCable, Shaun Dingwall, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mark Tandy, Simon Williams, Richard Clifford.

 

Dir Simon Curtis, Pro Steve Christian and Damian Jones, Screenplay Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, Ph Ben Smithard, Pro Des David Roger, Ed Victoria Boydell, Music Carter Burwell, Costumes Odile Dicks-Mireaux.

 

DJ Films/Gasworks Media-20th Century Fox.

106 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 29 September 2017. Cert. PG.