It’s a familiar name, Christopher Robbins, and it might take a moment or two for you to realise who he is and just how pivotal he was to your childhood. Once heralded as the luckiest boy in the world, Christopher Robbins was not just Winnie-The-Pooh’s best friend in the books, he was a real boy who reminded a defeated Europe of the other side of tragedy.
Suffering from PTSD from his service in the Great War, A. A. Milne or ‘Blue’ (Domhnall Gleeson) resumes his sophisticated life in London as a playwright, aside his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and eventually his newborn son, Christopher Robbins (Will Tilston). Struggling to write something that reflects his objections to the war, Blue moves his family from the city to a property surrounded by a hundred acres of woods and employs Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to care for Christopher while he writes.
When consequences force Blue to spend time with his son without the aid of his wife or Olive, he discovers what it is his work has been missing and sets out a series of books based on his son and his collection of stuffed animals. As the popularity of the books propel the cheery, bowl-cut Christopher to the rest of the world, the celebrity status imposed on the young lad begins to bear down on the family.
The biopic, while looking and sounding like a children’s film, is so often dark enough to manifest as something a little more complex. Simon Curtis does not make subtle the intensity of Blue’s PTSD, often coming in through loud and violent flashbacks that leave Christopher Robbins the perplexed victim. The latter half of the film also locks the child star into his fictional self, leaving him desperate to escape the stories he has become.
It’s a contrast to the happiness the Milnes give to others, with the effect of the books on the English saying much about the sorrow of the war but so too the joy of a child’s imagination. And as far as he’s pushed, there aren’t two consecutive scenes where you’ll catch Will Tilston without a smile on his face. The debuting actor looks like he’s really having fun in his first gig, and the result is a boy who rarely looks as though he’s acting. Even if the same can’t be said for Gleeson and Robbie, there must have been some brilliant peer work behind the scenes.
Curtis approaches the story of A. A. Milne empirically, detailing the etymology of Winnie-The-Pooh and listing the events that shaped Christopher Robbins young life before arriving at his big picture. Wrapped up in dialogue between an older Christopher and Blue, we see perhaps not only why Milne had wrote the books, but too why Curtis had made the film. While the spirit of a nation can be crushed, the joy and imagination of a child is something … that can also be crushed, but that shared joy, even if only momentarily, gave a battered nation something to put their hope in.
Film Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Blu-Ray edition of Goodbye Christopher Robbins gives audiences the opportunity to gather a little more historical context to the feature film. Sending audiences to a post Great War England is one thing the feature nails, and a collection of mini featurettes shows how the crew handled cinematography and historical accuracy in the A. A. Milne story.
The Walk in the Woods featurette strings together interviews with the director Simon Curtis, A. A. Milne biographer Ann Thwaite and production designer David Rodger among others, with footage of the crew filming on location at the Ashdown Forest in Sussex, or, the real Winnie-The-Pooh woods. It gives audiences a chance to see the process of placing all the pieces of A. A. Milne’s life into a dramatic work.
Simon Curtis and project writer Frank Conttrell-Boyce also provide commentary for the feature. For someone who was a little disappointed when they found out the train scene from The Darkest Hour didn’t really happen, the commentary in Goodbye Christopher Robbins did more than save me a trip to Google. Showing great research and knowledge of the story they’ve created, the duo provide insight into the decisions they’ve made in the film, while confirming that almost all of the events of the film really happened.
Special Features Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Goodbye Christopher Robin is available on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD now!