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Goodbye Christopher Robin


Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore, Vicki Pepperdine, Richard McCabe, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Shaun Dingwall

Director: Simon Curtis

It says a great deal for traditional British culture that, while growing up in eminently British Kenya, I became as familiar with such creatures as Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga and Roo as I was with the then endemic lions, jackals, giraffes and wildebeests.

(And then Disney had not yet got around to injecting AA Milne's classic characters with so much cinematic sugar as to render them a danger to diabetes sufferers).

In this moving, appropriately unsentimental tale of the genesis of the fabled characters, screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan happily steer well clear of saccharine sentiment, presenting Milne (perfectly played by Gleeson) as a former WW1 soldier who, suffering from PTSD, is often thrown off balance by sudden noises.

No longer able to write his famed stage comedies, he moves to rural Sussex to write an anti-war book, claiming 'I have had enough of making people laugh. I want to make them see'.

Instead, while his socialite wife Robbie ignores the boy, leaving him to be loved and looked after by nanny Macdonald, Milne slowly - and credibly resorting to Hollywood-style whimsy - bonds with his six-year-old son Robin (Tilston, equally impressive), catalysing the creation of the magical world of Winnie the Pooh and his pals.

So far, so happy. The books are a huge success making Winnie and Company world famous and immensely profitable ...

Which is where the fairy-tale grinds to a halt. Christopher Robin is cruelly exploited to boost sales (fortunately for the lad, today's tacky television manipulation shows have yet to be created), being forced to appear at book sales, toy shops, book-selling parties and risking his life being photographed with a bear in London Zoo, inevitably becoming alienated from his father and then, bullied at boarding schools for who he is, becomes miserable enough to be happy to enlist for WW2 military service.

Gleeson and Tilston hold centre screen perfectly, with strong support from Robbie, bitchy to perfection and given the memorable line describing New York as 'Just like London - with more money'.

Curtis' direction concentrates to advantage on strong storytelling and matching performances rather than seeking auteuristic tropes where none are required; and Ben Smithard's atmospheric cinematography makes the most of the attractive rural locations to create a story of genuine charm and credible sentimentality which, among other pleasures, establishes the game of Poohsticks for a new generation.

Alan Frank

UK 2017. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour.
106 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 01 Oct 2017