Christopher Robin, the enchanted child who lives with Winnie-the-Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood, was once a real boy.
The only child of author A.A. Milne, Christopher (known in his family as Billy) was born shortly after the end of World War I, to a father forever damaged by the horrors he saw on the battlefields. Seeking a peaceful refuge, and watching his son play with favorite stuffed animals, Milne created the world of Pooh, only to watch as his books’ astonishing popularity threatened to bring an end to his son’s idyllic childhood.
That’s the story told in the gentle British drama “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” one of those films that’s as good as it needs to be, but no better. (It’s also, despite its family-friendly PG rating and content, not aimed at young children.)
After we meet Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his socialite wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), during World War II, when their grown son is at the front, the film flashes back to Billy’s childhood, mostly spent with a loving nanny (Kelly Macdonald) rather than his often-absent parents.
“Winnie the Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner” were written and published when Billy (Will Tilston) was about 6 to 8 years old; we see a wide-eyed Billy posing for pictures, politely meeting fans and wondering how something that was just his became the property of the world.
Director Simon Curtis bathes Billy, and the Milnes’ picture-perfect country house, in exquisitely picturesque, slanted sunlight; even the moon, on a perfectly quiet night, seems too lovely to be real. Tilston, however, is the genuine article, and his touchingly natural performance carries the movie. Gleeson, whose role is underwritten, steps back and lets the boy shine.
Despite the twee being occasionally laid on too thick, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is ultimately a pleasant enough wallow in British childhood, games of Poohsticks and wistful nostalgia for innocence lost.
“If I’m in a book, people might think I’m not real,” Billy tells his father, in perfect child logic; as all former visitors to Pooh Corner know, it’s the sort of thing Pooh or Piglet might have said. Little Billy grew up and moved on, long ago; little Christopher Robin lives forever.
‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’
Rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language.