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Goodbye Christopher Robin is one of the best films of 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin                                            Cert: PG    1hr 47mins 

Rating:

Watching Goodbye Christopher Robin, two things strike you very quickly. The first is that the depiction of 100 Acre Wood is exactly as surely all Winnie-the-Pooh fans have always imagined – a glorious epitome of green English woodland. 

The second is that the sight of a nervous-looking post lady cycling down a leafy lane clutching a telegram is rarely a good sign. Especially when a caption has just told us it’s 1941.

Both turn out to be highly significant, with the former providing the first sign that Simon Curtis’s delicious and powerfully evocative drama will captivate and charm all adult fans of AA Milne, while the latter provides fair warning that you will need a small miracle – or a heart of stone – to get through this without what the Milne family would call ‘blubbing’.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a delicious and powerfully evocative drama which will captivate and charm all adult fans of AA Milne (a wonderful Domhnall Gleeson, above)

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a delicious and powerfully evocative drama which will captivate and charm all adult fans of AA Milne (a wonderful Domhnall Gleeson, above)

I was blinking back the tears after barely 90 seconds, albeit on an emotionally charged day when my son marched, thankfully, not off to war but off to university instead. 

It may be that those suffering less emotional trauma or simply built of sterner stuff will get through it with cheeks un-moistened, but I doubt it. Because this, quite simply, is one of the best British films you’ll see all year – a deeply moving and yet honestly revealing evocation of parenthood and creativity, of childhood and that enduring love for a favourite cuddly toy.

But that doesn’t make it sentimental for a second. The brilliance of the screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan is that it has real teeth. 

Yes, this is the story of how one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature came to be created but interwoven throughout are warnings – that ominous opening, the title – that this is not necessarily a happy story for all involved.

If the film has a small weak point, it¿s Margot Robbie, who plays Milne's high-maintenance wife (above). But if she gives the film legs at the US box office, she¿ll be worth her weight in gold

If the film has a small weak point, it’s Margot Robbie, who plays Milne’s high-maintenance wife (above). But if she gives the film legs at the US box office, she’ll be worth her weight in gold

Mind you, it was very nearly a story that Milne – played here wonderfully by Domhnall Gleeson – didn’t get to live at all as an early flashback to 1916 and the trenches of the Somme makes clear. 

Wounded and also suffering from a mild but recurring form of shellshock, Milne, an established playwright and Punch writer, struggles to make sense of the post-war peacetime world.

His publisher wants him to write something ‘wickedly funny’; he wants to write about the horrors of war. With his beautiful but high-maintenance wife, Daphne (Australian actress Margot Robbie), he moves to the country and finds he can do neither. 

At least their son, Christopher Robin, is born, in 1920; an event that this already successful society couple celebrate as was the custom of those times by promptly employing a nanny (Kelly Macdonald). 

Absolutely central to the film¿s appeal is Will Tilston (above), the wonderfully cinegenic young boy who plays Christopher Robin from about six to eight

Absolutely central to the film’s appeal is Will Tilston (above), the wonderfully cinegenic young boy who plays Christopher Robin from about six to eight

But it’s when, a few years later, Daphne finally despairs of her husband’s lack of progress and bolts back to the London parties she loves and Nanny has to beg a few days off to look after her ailing mother, that the real magic happens. Suddenly, father and small son are thrown together for days on end.

And what better way to keep a small boy amused than to take him off for walks in the woods and tell him tales of the wild animals that live there. Christopher Robin, nicknamed Billy Moon, however, being a clever little boy, soon realises that there are no really wild animals in Sussex and certainly not any bears like his beloved teddy. 

His father, who his son knows as ‘Blue’, will have to do better and slowly he does so in scenes that are extraordinarily moving. It’s not often that the father-son relationship has a significant cinematic moment but, my goodness, it does here.

IT’S A FACT

In 2014 a single drawing by EH Shepard of AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh set a new auction record by selling for £314,500. 

What follows is, of course, the creation of the soon-to-be iconic Winnie-the-Pooh but Goodbye Christopher Robin has bigger dramatic ambitions than simply marking that historic moment. 

For while Winnie-the-Pooh almost instantly becomes a global phenomenon, disappointments and heartbreak – in a rich variety of forms – lie ahead. Particularly for poor Christopher Robin.

Curtis, an experienced television director who already has My Week With Marilyn and Woman In Gold among his film credits, makes what is undoubtedly his best movie yet. It looks fabulous, both period and place are beautifully recreated and the acting – for the most part – is quite wonderful. 

Gleeson gives a performance that will not only be one of the highlights of his career but grab nominations too – British ones, anyway – while there’s terrific support from Stephen Campbell Moore as Milne’s collaborator and illustrator, EH Shephard (of whom I’d have liked to hear more), and from Macdonald as the Milne’s adored but feisty nanny.

Absolutely central, however, to the film’s appeal is Will Tilston, the wonderfully cinegenic young boy who plays Christopher Robin from about six to eight. That said, Alex Lawther, who plays him as an older teenager and young man, is excellent too.

If the film has a small weak point, it’s Robbie, who wrestles with the clipped, upper-class English tones of the period without always winning, doesn’t look altogether right and who must know there are dozens of British actresses who could have played the part better. 

But if she gives the film legs at the American box office – as Tom Hanks did for the not altogether dissimilar Saving Mr Banks – then she’ll be worth her weight in gold. 

An absolute must for grown-up Winnie-the-Pooh fans and anyone with a fondness for quality drama and small bears.

SECOND SCREEN 

Home Again (12A)

Rating:

Brimstone (18) 

Rating:

In Home Again, Reese Witherspoon plays Alice Kinney, a newly separated 40-year-old who has just returned to Los Angeles from New York and soon invites three much younger wannabe male film-makers to move into her summer house. Does anyone feel a morale-boosting ‘younger man’ romance coming on?

The age gap eventually emerges as about 13 years, which is hardly going to frighten the horses these days. Especially as Alice is virtually wrinkle- free (this is Los Angeles), immaculately coiffed and even her soon-to-be ex-husband (Michael Sheen) is still a little bit in love with her.

Alice is living in a substantial Beverly Hills house left to her by her late film-director father while her still-glamorous mother (Candice Bergen, so scene-stealingly good you want more) was an actress and still has an eye for a handsome young man… or three.  

But not in a predatory way, which might win a cheap laugh, but in a life-enhancing way that makes you feel more kindly disposed to all the characters involved. And that’s what makes it such a watchable success.

I love a good Western and early on Brimstone, with Dakota Fanning as a mute midwife (above) has all the hallmarks of being just that. But as the title suggests, it¿s heading somewhere dark

I love a good Western and early on Brimstone, with Dakota Fanning as a mute midwife (above) has all the hallmarks of being just that. But as the title suggests, it’s heading somewhere dark

I love a good Western and early on Brimstone, with Dakota Fanning as a young, mute midwife and Guy Pearce as a heavily scarred and distinctly Old Testament-style pastor, has all the hallmarks of being just that. 

But as the title suggests, it’s heading somewhere dark, So dark, in fact, that it becomes tempting to turn away or simply stop believing. Which is a shame for such a well-made and well-acted film.

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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