Offering a glimpse into the creation of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” aims to be a darker-than-expected look into the origins of a childhood classic. But the film doesn’t quite have the courage to see its objective through to the end.
Suffering from PTSD after returning from the battlefields of WWI, writer A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is eager to write something more meaningful than the comedic stories and plays for which he’s become known. Seeking peace and quiet, he decides to leave bustling London for the Sussex countryside and drags his family along for the ride.
Milne settles into his work, and with his socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) mostly disinterested in the duties of motherhood, their young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) — given the nickname “Billy Moon” — is left in the care of his sweet-natured nanny, Olive (a lovely Kelly Macdonald). The rare time Milne does spend with Billy, he treats the boy more as a muse than a son, using their imaginative play as fodder for his writing.
Milne’s stories of childhood innocence strike a chord with the public, and their popularity only grows, leading the author to send Billy off on publicity tours requiring him to sit for countless radio interviews and public appearances. As Billy is forced into a public life he never wanted, the relationship between father and son grows increasingly strained.
Showing how Billy Moon was alternately ignored and exploited by his parents, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” takes an unexpectedly bitter angle for a handsomely-mounted prestige biopic. It’s a fascinating approach, so it’s a little disappointing when director Simon Curtis settles for a rose-colored conclusion that leaves the film feeling much more like the cheerfully traditional biopic it seemed determined to avoid.