This origin tale, directed by Simon Curtis, about the much-beloved children’s books about Winnie-the-Pooh toggles between charming and clunky, affecting and cloying. It begins in the sad aftermath of the Great War, when writer A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is having trouble readjusting after his military experience. He leaves behind the glitter of 1920s West End London for a retreat in the country. It is there, while occasionally functioning as the primary parent for his young son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), that Milne begins to spin tales of the boy’s toy animals. (The guardianship of Christopher falls mainly to his nanny, portrayed by the always welcome Kelly Macdonald; Margot Robbie is miscast as the not-very-sympathetic flapper-y mother.)
There are scenes that work, such as when Milne connects perfectly with his precocious lively boy in flights of fancy in the woods, or the disappointment and betrayal Christopher experiences when this private made-up world is mined for public acclaim. (An extended sequence during which Christopher suffers mightily through numerous PR stunts to promote the books made me feel terrible for having ever enjoyed them.) But the film’s set-up and bookended final act are poorly constructed to mine maximum melodrama, a tone that is at odds with this film’s gentler, sweet and even bittersweet passages.