Ok, when I put the film society on hiatus to do the London Film Festival, this is not the movie I expected to be reviewing when I got back. I was aware of the movie since I saw it being heavily advertised in the London Underground whilst I was there, but I didn’t have the intention of reviewing the film since, well, it didn’t really look like my thing.
Films like this are nothing new. We have created works that are becoming more myth and legend than iconic in our culture, it makes sense that most of the big creations of the 20th Century would have films surrounding their creation. After all, we have done it with classic ideas with films like Shakespeare in Love and Amadeus. More recently we have had films about the making of classic films like Hitchcock and Trombeau and stories for the creation of famous books is also nothing new either, with films like Finding Neville and even Disney creations have had the treatment done to it with the film Saving Mr Banks. Now one of the things I always felt all these films have in common, with possibly the exception of Finding Neville and Shakespeare in Love, is that I don’t feel like they added and extra dimension to the story. Especially when you take films like Hitchcock and Saving Mr Banks, nothing is really told there that someone like myself, who has a lot of knowledge of the subject wouldn’t already know. Granted I am in a position where I obsess over this stuff so I am one of the rare exceptions of people that would be in the position to know about the creations of Psycho and Mary Poppins and a general audience might be fascinated about finally coming to grips with the stories behind those creations, but I get a sense that these films were aimed at film buffs and people with a knowledge of the subject, so as a result, it doesn’t really add much to them. In the cases of both Hitchcock and Saving Mr Banks, they can often be rather fabricated.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is an unusual one for me as I was never really a big fan if Winnie the Pooh, the books were never read to me as a child, I never really watched any of the movies or the TV series. I remember them occasionally being on the Disney channel every so often, but I never watched much of the Disney channel, especially after they went much more into a teen butt market as opposed to the creative animation they did with shows like Ducktails, Darkwing Duck, Recess etc etc etc. something I am thankful they have moved back to.
Nevertheless, this film was actually requested by a friend of mine and since I didn’t have anything else to go on, since there were quite a few films that were up for my potential viewing, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go and see it.
The film is directed by Simon Curtis, whose only feature film directing job prior to this that I can find is 2015’s Woman in Gold, a decent film about an interesting true story, but doesn’t quite stick out all that much, despite that it has a brilliant performance from Helen Mirren. If you like good stories about World War 2 that aren’t really about the conflict, but more about the effect on the person on the street, I would say it is worth a watch, but be warned, the modern day segments are a bit boring, and Ryan Reynolds looks like he is a bit out of his depth in this role, though I commend him for trying. So, how did I find this film in the end, would this offer me anything really, that those other films had?
Ok, Goodbye Christopher Robin is kind of the film you are expecting, and then it’s not. Telling the story, taking place just after World War 1, writer Alan Milne, (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is struggling to settle back into life back in England following his time at Battle of the Somme and witnessing the deaths of many people. He is basically suffering from what we now would describe as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Him and his wife Daphne, (played by Margot Robbie) have a son who they named Christopher Robin, (played by Will Tilston). However, he struggles with writing in London society since the environment has a lot of triggers that bring on his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so they decide to move to the countryside in Sussex. Still struggling to write, and with their child’s nanny having left for London to look after her mother, he finds inspiration through playing with his son in the woods with his collection of Teddy bears, which later inspire him to create the story of Winnie the Pooh. However, the book is a little too successful and as a result, things spiral out of control for Christopher Robin.
Ok, Goodbye Christopher Robin, first and foremost does give me what I wanted from this film because unlike the other films, it actually has a critical eye on its lead subject. Plus, it gives me a lot of knowledge on the writing of one of the most famous books ever written that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Now many famous writers did serve in both World Wars, in fact J R Tolkien was also in the Battle of the Somme and Stan Lee served in the second World War, and now I realise I want to see a Stan Lee biopic. The film tells the story of how he initially moved to the countryside to write anti-war material since he wishes for conflict like the first World War to never happen again. It then moves into something very interesting. We witness how a single thing can act as a healing process and the books themselves are just a bi-product of that healing process.
Now it’s not surprising that this film was created, in fact it recently came about that Winnie the Pooh was voted one of the most beloved children’s books ever written and I think the reason that the film gets away with doing as much as it does is the that this isn’t a Disney production. It’s a Fox Searchlight Production, which greatly surprised me as well considering I was certain that Disney still held the rights to the characters from Winnie the Pooh, correct me if I am wrong on that one. Mind you, even if they do, if Disney do still hold the rights and they haven’t done anything with the characters, you are hardly going to notice, however, they haven’t even been in any of the Kingdom Hearts games recently.
Now the first half of the film is very well done, we get and interesting look into the affect that the first World War had on many of the survivors that came home and it almost holds a commentary on the first World War similar to that of Back Adder Goes Forth, which will earn you brownie points from me considering that that is one of my all time favourite sit coms. In fact, I actually think you could play this after the finale of that season and they would tie in very well together, since the nature of that finale shows the devastation of the first World War whereas this film shows the process of the healing from that war. It’s nice to see all the inspirations behind the creations, from the various teddy bears that were given to him to the door placed on the tree to represent the owls home and we also see the process of Alan’s war buddy who drew all the drawings. There is even a reference to where the bears name came from, after a bear that was in London Zoo being named Winnie to represent that he had come from Winipeg. You really get a sense of where this book came from and the truly heart felt nature behind it, of what it did for a family.
Then we get to the second half of the movie, and we really see the affect it truly had, then it really becomes Christopher’s movie. We see the distress over the public ownership of his childhood, how people now view him as a fictional character that is theirs to own and we see the toll it took on him and the relationship with his parents and how they weren’t as supportive when they needed to be. This the point where the film really struck me and elevated it for me. It also helps that there are some very good performances in this film that really sell it. It’s interesting seeing Christophers relationship with all these various character and how they are either there for him or not. We get the sense of abandonment from his parents but we also get his carer, Olive, played by Kelly Macdonald, who is one of the more interesting parts of the film and in case you are wondering, she wass Diane in Trainspotting and she played Helena Raven Claw in Harry Potter. I actually mention that I thought she was a very good actress in a bad role when I reviewed Swallows and Amazons last year, however, she delivers a much better performance in this film in a character that really needs to stand out. I should go on and on about the other things I liked in the second half of this film, but that would be to spoil most of its best moments, but needless to say, as I mentioned, the film is a lot more critical of A A Milne and the success of that book and how it transitioned. I will say though, in A A Milne’s defence, there was probably no way he could have anticipated the success Winnie the Pooh would have had. But that being said, the film however, has an ending that I felt was appropriate for the film that came before it and I felt it did a decent job overall, this is actually one of the more interesting bio pics in recent memory.
Needless to say, if you are a fan of Winnie the Pooh stories, you owe it to yourself to go and see this film, though it may also make you have a different perspective on those books having seen the creation of them.
Now, this film does have its problems, I will stress, it is not perfect. For example, there are a lot of moments where it feels the film is dragging on one note and the progression feels like it is slowing down, though, those are mostly in the first half of the film, something that I have noticed also within Woman in Gold, thankfully I think it was a lot more prominent in that film than in this one. As a result, this film feels really long. This film comes in at 1hr 47min, but this definitely felt like at least a 2hr 10min film, and not in a good way!! I think that many people may criticise this film and say that Margot Robbie’s character is too unlikeable, however, I felt that was one of things I really liked about the film, she is not really a bad person, she is more a product of the times. Also, I would not be surprised if people who are fans of the book might be put off by the critical nature the film has on the books success or the Winnie the Pooh franchise as a whole, a franchise that was so popular, that the character was briefly banned in a village in Poland because they believed he was gay. I am not joking, that is genuinely true, look it up! The film does show how the right kind of fiction at the right time can do a lot of good for a lot of people.
As for the performances, well, there are some very good performances. While I initially felt his performance wasn’t anything amazing he really blew me away with his performance in the second half of the film compared to the first half and I will say it is definitely proving that I think the quality of child actors has gone up in recent memory. Margot Robbie, well she gives a very good performance and gives a good English accent all things considered, it’s certainly better than her accent in Legend of Tarzan, I think she has been working on that pretty well. Kelly Macdonald gives one of the best performances of the entire film and is proving to me that she is a must watch actress, but I am astounded by how much I enjoyed the performance of Domhnall Gleeson, who really thrown himself into this role and I’m really looking forward to talking about him again when I review Star Wars The Last Jedi in a couple of months.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is what I would like to describe as a very good biopic that actually has something very interesting to say about its subject and shines a light on a subject that we think we know, but has a lot more to it than we first thought. I certainly felt the second half of the film was better than the first, but that is not to say that the first half of the film had a lot of merit to it. If you are going into this thinking you are just getting the story of the creation of Winnie the Pooh, don’t, you are getting a lot more than that, though be aware, as I have mentioned throughout this review, the film is very critical at times of A A Milne, but not to an extent where they make him out to be a complete monster, which would have destroyed the film. The performances are excellent, the cinematography is actually very good as well as the editing and I felt the film had some brilliant storytelling, as as result, I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Well, that’s my job done for today.
In keeping with the Halloween spirit we have going on right now, you can expect a mini-review in the coming weeks of Jigsaw, since I am a big fan of the Saw franchise and I will definitely be seeing that film. But next week it is back to the MCU where I will be reviewing Four Ragna Rock. I will also be linking into a Calvin and Ren review Vlog, which will be split into two parts, one non spoiler reiew and our spoiler review. So, if you don’t like me tap dancing around my thoughts on specific aspects of the film, you can check out that one where we will be commenting completely about our thoughts on the film.
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and I am serious, I want the Stan Lee biopic. Marvel studios, make it happen!!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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