The charming character of Winnie-the-Pooh gives way to warm, childhood memories, but the reality is the children’s classic was wrought with the lifeblood of the author. The film Goodbye Christopher Robin, directed by Simon Curtis, tells the true story of how the character and book by A.A. Milne came to fruition. What appears to be a heartfelt and loving story on the outside is a quite depressing and sad tale of post-traumatic stress syndrome and childhood abandonment.
Milne (Domnhall Gleeson) also known as Blue by friends and family, has just returned from World War I trench warfare and is trying to assimilate back into London’s high society. He was a playwright and essayist who wrote humorous stories and comedies before the war. Once back at home, the sounds of the world plague him with frightful memories of dead soldiers and machine guns. His wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), a socialite who is ripe for the fanfare of the 1920’s, just wants him to get over it and go back to his work.
To cheer him up, she has a baby boy who she hopes will occupy his mind. Christopher Robin is born and his birth doesn’t seem to change their life too much. They hire a nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald), who tends to him and becomes almost a second mother to the boy. The Milnes continue to live their social lives, while the boy stays with the nanny. Christopher is known by Billy Moon (Will Tilston), in a sense it is his alter ego, the Milne’s enjoyed that strange escapism of calling each other by a different name.
With his PTSD in full force, Milne decides to move the family to the countryside to Sussex, so he can write a novel about war and get it out of “his system,” as his wife likes to refer to it. The problem is Milne can’t seem to get anything out. When Daphne leaves to the city, and the nanny goes to tend to her dying mother, Milne is left alone to care for his child. The little boy just wants his father’s attention.
Milne finally gives in to Billy Moon and begins to play along with him and his adventures with his stuffed animals. His favorite being a cuddly bear named Edward. When Milne takes a step back and sees how much joy these stuffed animals bring his son, he brings his illustrator friend Ernest H. Shepard (Stephen Campbell) to help him make the images for his children’s book. The two follow the boy around the forest, Ernest sketching away furiously, while Milne takes mental notes for reference. Edward the bear turns into Winnie-The-Pooh (another alter-ego) because as he says all great leaders have a “the” in their name.
The book becomes a sensation, the world needed some happiness after World War I, and they could not get enough of Christopher Robin and his bear. His son becomes immortalized in the book and an instant star. The Milne’s in a sense sell out and exploit their son. They put him on a booked schedule of interviews, photo ops, and parties. His mother is cold and doesn’t care and Milne remains just as reserved and distant as ever. The only person who seems to care about his well being is the nanny.
We later see Billy Moon (Alex Lawther) as a young adult who wants to serve his country in World War II. He is constantly belittled and taunted because he was Christopher Robin, and feels that becoming a soldier could allow him to lose his book character identity. The film twists and turns with sad and minor uplifting moments.
I enjoyed the backstory of how Winnie-The-Pooh came to be and to find out who Christopher Robin and A.A. Milne really were, versus the Disney version I imagined. The Milne’s had no emotion and didn’t know how to care for their child, it was sad to see the way they treated their son. Were they just products of the Victorian era, or had WWI swallowed them up?
Gleeson and Robbie gave good performances, and MacDonald gave the film a sense of light and airiness that it needed. Newcomer Tilston delivered his lines with cheekiness and sass and made you fall in love with him.
The film was endearing and sad, yet I felt that it was missing a cohesive story arc. It flopped around with time, and it felt like some of the emotion that came from Billy Moon as an adult felt a bit off. We see him go from a child to adult in a minute, with nothing in the middle, same for the parents.
This was a good movie overall; the actors were good. and the story was interesting. Is it an Oscar contender? Not at all. Regardless, I would still recommend seeing the film as it delivered a thought-provoking look at how a simple toy changed the mind and hearts of the author and the world around him.