If somebody asked me to come up with the name of a primary character in a book that happens to be a tiger – it would take me weeks to come up with something as gloriously simplistic as ‘Tigger’. Because adults scrutinise over ever decision, weigh up the implications, overthink until no idea seems satisfactory enough. But children don’t, they’re blissfully concise, they just say whatever comes to their mind first, and often it breeds the best results. It’s this very notion, that of a child’s limitless imagination, that makes Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin such an enchanting piece of British cinema.
Domhnall Gleeson plays the esteemed playwright and author A.A. Milne, who is suffering from PTSD having served during the First World War. Unable to adjust back into city life, he convinces his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) to move to the countryside, where they relocate with their young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) and nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald). While Daphne misses the hustle and bustle of London living, her husband finds inspiration from his time spent journeying to the nearby woods with his son, creating the magical world of Winnie the Pooh, based on the toy animals his son has become enamoured by. But Milne makes one vital error – for he names the child in his new collection of stories Christopher Robin, inadvertently turning his son into one of the one famous celebrities in the country.
There is a myriad of themes at play here, and Curtis must be commended for his fine job of balancing them all. From the internalised anguish felt by Milne following the barbaric war, or how his new stories are stunting his son’s childhood. But amidst the harsher, more profound elements of the narrative comes a fascinating study of the creative mind, and how we could learn so much from children, who have the most wonderful imaginations. It’s not contrived either in how Milne comes to create the character of Winnie the Pooh. Unlike in Ray, when Mr. Charles appears to write one of his biggest ever hits Hit the Road Jack spontaneously during an argument with his lover, this biopic is more subtle in its execution, as we see how all of the factors slowly filter into the writer’s sub-conscious.
The film is bookended with war, with works as an affecting juxtaposition to the magical kingdom of Pooh and his friends. While the nation yearns for escapism, and a sense of hope – which the books provided – they’re merely glossing over a tumultuous, tragic period in British history. We begin by witnessing Milne during the First World War, and in the latter stages of the film we see his now teenage son (portrayed at this stage by Alex Lawther) enlist for the Second. Lawther turns in an impressive display, as he always does, making a big impact in such a short period of time, and he’s representative of the entire cast, each bringing so much to their respective roles – with breakthrough star Tilston certainly one to keep an eye out for.
That said, Robbie can be criticised for her rather inconsistent accent, but it takes little away from this charming tale, that is peppered with sadness, enriched by its poignancy, and pertinency too. For we study how being a child superstar could affect one’s psyche, humanising a boy from a book we thought we knew so well already, and realised we didn’t really know at all.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is released on September 29th.