* 1/2 (out of five)
I’ve done my research, and there is no evidence to suggest that A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie The Pooh books, wore facial make-up on a daily basis. And yet in every shot (and there are hundreds) of Domhnall Gleeson as Milne in the turgid Good Bye Christopher Robin, there’s a massive, frustratingly obvious layer of pancake all over his face. It’s beyond distracting. The history of narrative cinema is partially the history of the cinematographer and make-up artist hiding the leading man’s facepaint, an important art not bothered with here.
It may seem churlish to harp on a man’s facepaint, but Gleeson’s make-up travesty is the perfect microcosmic example of everything that is wrong with Goodbye Christopher Robin. This is the kind of movie where the actors step from one incredible shaft of sunlight carefully into another, as though there were multiple suns; where their performances are as stiff as nineteenth century mechanical wind-up toys, hampered by the need to place their faces “just so” to catch the light. A movie that was obviously hijacked by a cinematographer (Ben Smithard, whose terrible overlighting also afflicts The Second Best Marigold Hotel, Viceroy’s House, My Week With Marilyn and the upcoming The Man Who Invented Christmas) who is too chummy with a terribly lazy director (Simon Curtis). This duo is a blot on British filmmaking; to see dailies of Gleeson’s face and not correct the problem is astonishing.
The make up artists involved here are Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Rachael Speke, and I will avoid their work in future if possible. Besides the constant awfulness of Gleeson’s day-to-day look, the film features the worst “age make-up” I have perhaps ever seen; Gleeson and co-star Margot Robbie, when aged, look simply glammed up for a party. Indeed, I didn’t even realise they were supposed to be decades older until a story point made it clear; the make-up certainly did not.
The script is terribly on-the-nose, misusing PTSD as an incredibly cheap sentimental trick. At one point, Milne, a recent veteran of World War One, gets triggered by a popping balloon. The way to overcome it, of course, is to pop another balloon, and soon everyone’s jumping on balloons and getting over their PTSD! The story is about Milne’s creation of the Pooh books after moving to the countryside (to get over that darned PTSD!) and the effect it has on his son, the real Christopher Robin. That’s an intriguing idea for a movie, and it is royally screwed at every stage by this horribly over-baked movie, that may as well be called Look How Pretty We Are. Hampered by everything – script, make-up, lighting, obvious lack of direction – the normally reliable Gleeson, Robbie and even Scottish National Treasure Kelly Macdonald are all dreadful, breathing as much life into their characters as the waxworks at Madame Tussauds. Wretched.