Everyone in the world has heard the stories of Winnie the Pooh, A Bear of Very Little Brain. My husband treasures the stories and his favorite character is Eeyore. When I heard that they’d made a film about the author of the book, A. A. Milne, I jumped at the chance to see it, especially to take my husband to the film but also for myself. I love learning more about imaginative successful writers, to find out how A. A. Milne created such memorable and lovable characters. Not only did I learn so much about Milne but this cautionary tale gave me much insight into the effect of the books on his son, Christopher. It was gut wrenching and poignant but in the end, as beautiful as the stories.
The movie details a behind the scenes look at the life of A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) as he creates his Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C. R. Milne (Will Tilston, aged eight). The story picks up as Alan Milne returns from World War I, recovering from shell shock and struggling with flashbacks to his time in the trenches. His wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie) tells him to find something to be happy about and does not understand his sadness, despite his nickname of Blue. Soon after is the birth of their son. While he is christened Christopher Robin, they use the name Billy as Daphne had wished for a girl. She struggles with connecting to her son. Eventually they hire a nanny, Olive (Kelly McDonald) to help assist with Billy Moon (He can’t pronounce his last name) while Milne creates plays and the pair travel.
Milne continues to struggle with issues related to the trauma of war, so he decides to leave London for the Sussex countryside with his family. During the move, Daphne purchases a bear and other stuffed animals for Billy, who falls in love with the woods and his animals. While there, Alan wishes to write a treatise against war but one weekend is left alone with his son. The pair connect, Billy dragging his father out to play with him, forging a relationship. Billy soothes his father’s trauma and in the time they spend together, the stories of Winnie the Pooh are forged. A.A. brings his illustrator out to help with the stories, Ernest (Stephen Campbell Moore) The stories bring Alan and Billy together but once the stories are written, the pair are drawn apart, Milne so busy with publishing the books that he has little time for Billy. The publicity and fame begin to haunt Billy and while the stories revolve around childhood innocence, he endures the loss of his childhood, only in adulthood (Alex Lawther, age eighteen) understanding the impact of the stories on its readers. As he states, “My childhood was happy, it was growing up that was hard.”
The writing does a lovely job of bringing in the animals, the inspiration of the stories to life. Daphne creates voices for each one and Billy declares only she can talk for them. The dialogue pulls in all the little elements of the stories, sharing with us how each animal gets their names, how each one relates to a person in Milne’s life, and allowing us to see how the trauma of war affected Alan Milne. It helped to create his desire for peace his son’s innocent joy provided happy memories for them both. The writing also demonstrates how gut wrenching it can be to have that innocence taken away by fame and money. While it is sad to watch, the resolution at the end helps illustrate how important the stories are to generations, building happiness for those who’d returned from a terrible war.
The acting is phenomenal. Will Tilston as young Billy Milne is delightful, adorable with his dimples, happy and loving, and yet able to give an emotional performance when needed. Kelly McDonald is warm and loving as Olive, Billy’s nanny, demonstrating affection that he needed in his life and truly illustrating the close bond between the pair. Domhnall Gleeson is
perfectly cast as A.A. Milne, down to looking the part simply from his build, his acting conveying both his trauma from the war but also the love and delight he has for his son, even when he struggles with showing his affection. Margot Robbie is nuanced in her performance, showing both coldness in her desire for everything to be perfect in her life but also her fear of losing the men she loves. Alex Lawther is brilliant as an older Christopher Milne. I especially loved Stephen Campbell Moore as Ernest, as he shares with Alan that he too struggles with issues from the war, letting his friend know he is not alone. Stephen Campbell Moore plays his character as kind and gentle.
One of the issues I did encounter was the beginning of the movie. It is a bit disjointed, jumping from 1941 to 1918 during a battle back to a ballroom after A.A. Milne has returned from the war. This causes confusion, making it hard to understand what is going on and while there is reference to something happening with Christopher Milne, it is hard to get invested right away. Once the story starts going in a linear fashion, though, I was deeply engrossed and was in tears by the end of the movie, moved by Christopher’s story as much as the creation of Winnie the Pooh.
One note of caution, my husband described this as a punch to his childhood. While he will never lose his love of the characters, it saddened him to see how Billy grew up so fast. If you are expecting all happy tales of Winnie the Pooh, this might not be for you. If you want to learn more about the history behind the stories, how they were created as well as learn about A.A. Milne and Christopher Milne, then come see this film. I found this story emotional, poignant and enlightening. It was tough to watch but truthful and the ending was lovely, tying back to the beauty and joy of childhood.
Rating: 4 stars
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN gives a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie-the-Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family?
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, and Will Tilston
Screenplay by: Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Directed by: Simon Curtis