The dark age of celebrity parents monetizing their cherubic children dawned many years before the scourge of selfies, social media and smart phones.
In the handsomely crafted drama Goodbye Christopher Robin, battle-scarred author AA Milne and his wife Daphne treat their young son as a sales tool in the mid-1920s to promote the literary adventures of a hunny-loving bear called Winnie-The-Pooh.
A tender exchange by telephone between father and son is broadcast live on the radio without the boy’s consent or prior knowledge, a trip to the zoo turns into a calculated photo opportunity with the resident brown bear, and playtime is curtailed to make way for a busy schedule of interviews and meet ‘n’ greets.
The sacrifice of one little boy’s childhood innocence for the happiness and healing of a shell-shocked Britain, which has been devastated by the Great War, is at the wounded heart of Simon Curtis’ picture.
The script, co-written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, gradually exposes the anguish and resentment that festered beneath the Hundred Acre Wood.
Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns to London from the trenches, where he witnessed hundreds of countrymen cut down in their prime.
“Find something to be happy about and stick to that,” glibly suggests his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), who cannot understand her husband’s inner turmoil.
Angered by the senseless loss of life, Milne abandons the capital for a quaint house in Ashdown Forest, transplanting Daphne, their young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) and the boy’s nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to the verdant idyll.
Milne hopes to pen a fierce rebuke against war, but is repeatedly distracted by his son.
“I’d really like if you wrote a book for me,” says Christopher Robin sweetly. “I’d definitely read it.”
A walk with the boy through the sun-dappled landscape fertilises Milne’s imagination and he contemplates a book that magically brings to life his son’s menagerie of stuffed toys including a morose donkey named Eeyore and a porcine runt called Piglet. Good friend Ernest Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) illustrates these enchanting escapades, which take the Milne clan around the world including glamorous New York.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a classy evocation of an era that tore countless families apart.
It’s an emotionally chilly picture, reflected in Gleeson’s restrained performance, which internalises Milne’s post-traumatic stress and shuts out his family as well as us.
That facade fractures in a couple of scenes, including one mournful heart-to-heart with his teenage son (now played by Alex Lawther) overlooking the East Sussex countryside.
Robbie relishes her flashier if underwritten character, while Macdonald provides warmth as the nanny, who recognises the damage being wrought on her dimple-cheeked young charge. Sadly, Milne and his wife don’t heed her sage counsel until it is too late.