Call it a trend or a coincidence, but suddenly there is a flood of new movies that explore the creation of famous characters in literature that were eventually turned into films themselves. Upcoming this season is the utterly delightful The Man Who Invented Christmas, which chronicles how Charles Dickens came up with and wrote A Christmas Carol, starring Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as the Scrooge inside his head. This weekend comes Professor Marston & The Wonder Women, about the man who brought us the Wonder Woman comic book after being inspired by his polyamorous relationship with his wife and their lover (review coming Friday), and Goodbye Christopher Robin, which is an absolutely fascinating look at how the Winnie the Pooh book came into the world along with the toll it took on the real-life Christopher Robin.
As I say in my video review of the latter (click the link above to watch), director Simon Curtis — working from a script by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan — has crafted an exceptionally handsome and eye-opening account of the creation of this landmark children’s classic book. Domhnall Gleeson is superb as author A.A. Milne, who comes back from World War I with a bad case of PTSD (called “shellshock” then) and a strong anti-war attitude. It affects his home life with wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), who longs for the pre-war husband and the swinging life they had in London. Now living in the country with their son Christopher Robin (Will Tiltson), Milne just can’t seem to crack a severe case of writers block, and it deeply affects his family life.
Eventually Daphne takes off for the big city, leaving her child and husband behind until he turns his career around, or so she says. The film then morphs into a father/son story that leads Milne to pay more attention to his kid’s interests, including the stuffed animals that become the germ of the first good idea he has had in a long time. The movie details the creation of Winnie the Pooh, into which he inserts his real-life son (whom his parents refer to as Billy Moon). At first that seems like a fine idea, but when the book eventually becomes a worldwide phenomenon, Christopher becomes an instant star and experiences the downside of that kind of fame. An idyllic childhood is turned upside down, and as the years go on (Alex Lawther plays the teenage Christopher) and he goes off to boarding school, being a part of his father’s iconic book no longer seems like it was a good idea.
In Curtis’ hands, Goodbye Christopher Robin avoids cheap sentimentality and surprisingly explores the underbelly of what instant celebrity can do to you, especially if you are a kid. There is so much here that is a complete delight to watch, particularly as the elements of the book come together, but the film has a strong serious side and much to say. It is that rare family film that doesn’t talk down to its intended audience or insult adults. In addition to Domhnall, Robbie does what she can with a largely unsympathetic role. As Christopher’s nanny Olive, Kelly MacDonald is terrific, the beating warm heart of the film. Tiltson is a once-in-a-lifetime find to play this role, and he manages to overcome the cute aspects to make Christopher Robin wonderfully relatable.
The production credits across the board are first rate. Producers are Steve Christian and Damian Jones. Following up his previous very fine real-life tales My Week with Marilyn and Woman in Gold, Curtis again finds his sweet spot with Goodbye Christopher Robin. Fox Searchlight releases Friday.
Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.