Tuesday 31 October 2017

Film Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin

A biopic of English author AA Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), Goodbye Christopher Robin takes place between the wars and charts the inception of the beloved Winnie the Pooh novels.

With director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold, My Week With Marilyn) behind the camera, Goodbye Christopher Robin pairs a jittery Gleeson, suffering with PTSD and disillusioned with his glittery London high society circles, with Margot Robbie's Daphne de Selincourt, Milne's strangely distant wife.

To recuperate and reevaluate, Milne uproots his family – Daphne, only child Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) and resident nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald) – to a peaceful country estate. It is here that Milne learns of his son's vivid imagination, deciding to channel his youthful innocence and appetite for adventure into a series of children's novels. When the novels skyrocket in popularity and the public hunger for every little detail of their origins, the media spotlight threatens to destroy Milne's marriage and Christopher Robin's previously peaceful childhood.

Drenched in dappled sunlight and oozing warm vibes, the middle act of Goodbye Christopher Robin – the part where Milne and Christopher venture into the woodland surrounding their home and embark of a series of innocent adventures with the latter's stuffed animals – is heartwarming, endearing and genuinely spirited filmmaking.

Although it may seem a little hazy and saccharine at times, I found this element of the story to be positively delightful. The frenetic following chapter where the media and public devour Milne's novels and things spiral out of control is equally as captivating also.

Despite the film being set nearly a century ago, its themes of celebrity culture and how it can skew our perception of boundaries, values and reality is really impactful. In many ways, Christopher Robin is the original child star; thrust into the spotlight at a young age, his struggle with coping is perfectly captured by toothy Tilston and a sulky, angsty Alex Lawther (who plays the teenage version of the character).

However, somewhere and somehow, Curtis' films loses sight of its subject. In trying to both capture the essence of feeling in the United Kingdom between the wars and also an effective biopic of one of its most-beloved authors, Goodbye Christopher Robin isn't as watertight as it could've been. However, at its core, the film is about a complicated father/son relationship that see-saws over several years, and when the film wisely returns to this conceit towards the end it comes to a close nicely.

Gleeson is great in the lead while Robbie is good despite her character being a little uneven; however, it's the heart-meltingly adorable Tilston who steals the show. Child actors can be hit and miss, and even though Tilston isn't as polished as the adult cast, he does endear us to a tragic figure whose story isn't as well-known as it should be.

The Verdict: 8/10

The plot and pacing is a little patchy but everything comes good in the powerful third act. The focus on father and son is compelling and the performances sell the more emotional moments. Make sure you pack some tissues; when the waterworks start, they flow freely.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is currently screening at the Cunard British Film Festival until November 15. It opens wide across Australia on Thursday November 23.

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