The added bonus that comes with a biopic of a famous literary or creative figure is that it doubles as an origin story for the work that made them famous in the first place. We’re as fascinated with the story behind Peter Pan or Alice as we are by the figures themselves, and in the case of Simon Curtis’ film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, we have the story of writer A.A. Milne and the birth of his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh. Unlike most films of its ilk, this story is a genuinely fascinating and moving one. Much like most films of its ilk though, it doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
Winnie the Pooh was born out of the relationship between Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, ‘Ex Machina’, ‘Frank’) and his son Christopher Robin, or Billy Moon as they call him (Will Tilston). Milne suffered crippling PTSD after the First World War, but his connection with his son and their shared creation of the Hundred Acre Wood led to healing, not just for himself but for the world post-war. However, the consequence of the success of Winnie the Pooh was to have eight-year-old Billy thrust into celebrity, stripping the boy of his privacy, his sense of self, his childhood and his relationship with his parents.
‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ has a surprising amount of potential, especially as an observation on the unexpected cost involved in creative pursuits and the responsibility of parents to their children. Both Milne and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, ‘I, Tonya’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’) have a difficult relationship with Billy, neither entirely willing to relinquish their lifestyle to being parents. The success of Pooh brings them together as a family to an extent, but the demands of that success eventually pull them further apart. Billy’s only ally is his nurse Olive (Kelly Macdonald), who tries her best to protect the boy from losing his childhood completely. This rich thematic material isn’t mined nearly as well as it should be by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, who never find the balance between clunky exposition and casual human interactions, and Curtis never seems to find the spine of the film in his direction. As a consequence, ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ has a kind of rambling quality, certainly entertaining but not as memorable as it could be. It also has trouble working out how best to approach how complex a figure Daphne is, and careful work at the beginning falls away to a far less complex and interesting character by the end.
...‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ has a kind of rambling quality, certainly entertaining but not as memorable as it could be.
It does look beautiful though thanks to Ben Smithard’s gorgeous cinematography, and while Margot Robbie suffers a bit from the weaknesses in the writing, Gleeson, Tilston and Macdonald are all wonderful, with both adult actors striking a beautiful chemistry with younger Tilston. In spite of its flaws, I still found something moving and melancholy about ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, and many of the more affecting moments sat with me for some time afterwards. It’s a pity this wasn’t approached with more bravery, imagination or rigour, but at least this biopic is a story worth telling for once.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ looks and sounds beautiful on Blu-ray. The 1080p 1.85:1 transfer bursts with rich, natural colours, and detail throughout is excellent. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is well-balanced and clear, showing off the subtle sound design.
Apart from a commentary from Simon Curtis and Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the rest of the features are made up of standard EPK material made for the films release. Under ‘Promotional Featurettes’ are...
‘A Walk in the Woods’ (2:34)
‘Healing a Nation’ (2:11)
‘A.A. Milne’ (2:01)
‘Hello Billy Moon’ (2:32)
‘Daphne Milne’ (2:17)
‘The Story’ (2:24)
‘Christopher Robin & His Nanny Olive' (3:18)
‘The Cast’ (2:32)
None of them are quite long enough to offer much, and the material is often quite repetitive. There’s also very little discussion or material around the actual Milne and Billy Moon. Special features are the perfect place for historical or archival material, so this feels like a missed opportunity. There’s also a image gallery and theatrical trailer included.