More noise than signal

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Domhnall Gleeson’s A.A. Milne returns from World War One a changed man, both physically due to injuries sustained at the Battle of the Somme, and mentally, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and an understandable disdain for the whole process of war itself. Finding a return to his pre-war London life of an acclaimed playwright, and also writing for Punch magazine too overwhelming, he and his family decamp to the country.

Said family by this point includes Margot Robbie’s Daphne Milne and their eight year old son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston). Country life soon becomes too boring for Daphne, who flits off back to London, leaving Christopher Robin to the care of his nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald), as is the way of the obnoxiously rich. Meanwhile, A.A. is struggling to start the anti-war polemic he’d hoped to write out here in the sticks, and gets increasingly frustrated about it, to the point of taking it out verbally on his son and nanny, because he is a frightful doucheclown.

He is further inconvenienced when Olive’s mother is taken gravely ill and she must leave to care for her, which means that A.A. must reduce himself to caring for his child, and staying around him for more than half an hour for what seems to be the first time since he was born. In a shocking development, it turns out that they enjoy their play time together, walking round the local woods with C.R. inventing stories starring his stuffed teddy bear, depressed donkey and tiny piglet, stories which inspires A.A. to write the Winnie the Pooh stories.

Which he does, and garners immediate success with, their innocent charm credited as helping the country rediscover joy after the war, which must surely be an indication of how bad things were. Of course, once it’s discovered that there’s a real live Christopher Robin, a media circus ensues, and because they are awe-inspiringly dreadful people, they’re happy to exploit this frenzy for maximum profit. This pooh-show reaches a nadir when, on a promotional tour of America they’re out of the country for C.R’s birthday. However they make sure to call and wish him all the best. Live, on radio.

After some harsh words from Olive, A.A. finally sees that they’ve been exploiting their child, just in time to pack him up and send him off to boarding school until he’s an adult. I know the past, and the posh, is a foreign country, and they do things differently there, but this surely seems callous at any time? Anyhow, we skip over years of relentless bullying, and meet a now 18 year old C.R. played by Alex Lawthe ready to go off to World War II, against his father’s wishes, for obvious reasons.

There are things, in isolation, to like about Goodbye Christopher Robin. Firstly, and most superficially, it often looks gorgeous, full of bucolic sun-dappled picture postcard shots of the English countryside. The cast uniformly aquit themselves well, Gleeson and Macdonald in particular. In general, the mechanics and execution of the film – writing, story, pacing, craft services, etc, are all very well handled.

However, it suffers greatly from being a film full of awful people doing objectively awful things. They might not see quite how awful they’re being, but they are nonetheless awful, and that makes it very difficult to engage with the film on its own terms. Instead, I engage with it on my terms, which are posh people are weird to the point of being inhuman, and this film feels like a documentary about badly programmed, malfunctioning Westworld hosts doing everything possible to give their kid grievous psychological damage.

This falls into the same category for me as Blue Jasmine did a few years back. On most levels, the film itself I’d have to dispassionately say is good, but the characters it contains are so horrible that it’s roundly repellent. So goes Goodbye Christopher Robin , an annoying experience that makes me yearn for the good ol’ days of class warfare. Also, Winnie the Pooh is a garbage bear for garbage people. Come back when you’re Paddington. Or Superted. Or those ones that Timothy Treadwell was talking to.