When it comes to Winnie The Pooh, it’s impossible to hate, or even dislike. It’s warm, adventurous and above all, relatable. To even the smallest degree you can identify with these characters, it’s all the more endearing that they all care for one another with such heart and charm that’ll make the most cynical reader just a little bit warm and fuzzy.
Director Simon Curtis who helmed projects like My Week With Marilyn sought to fully realize the legacy of A.A. Milne’s books as well as the effect they had on his family, more so his son; Billy Milne. Exploring themes of PTSD, creation, family, celebrity and so on, Goodbye Christopher Robin serves as a behind the scenes look into the man who wanted ‘to make people see, not to make people laugh’. As a playwright, He wrote of the pointlessness of war in his book, Peace Without Honour in 1934.
After serving on the western front in France, Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) came home scarred and confused. With so many personalities surrounding him, seemingly oblivious to the aftermath of World War 1, he needed more space to best articulate his worries and frustrations and so bought a country home in Ashdown Forest, Sussex.
Soon after his son is born, whilst juggling the progression of his book while forging a dynamic between him and Billy, (In his family he’s known as Billy but around the world he’s known as Christopher) he’s inspired by Billy’s optimism and intelligence to concoct stories that brought families together to sit around the fire and be comforted by such material.
He projected the affection he felt for his son into the pages of his books for the readers to feel the same warmth shared between the characters. The world in which they inhabit was a world created by Milne from the world both him and Billy created.
It’s really nice witnessing the creation of these iconic characters come to life that’s brought up so casually in conversation, from the red balloons (there’s no demonic clown prowling about) to Owl’s door. But once the stories reach the rest of the world, things get more difficult and drives more of a rift between the family that makes Milne lose sight of what he was writing about in the first place. Fan mail coming in droves, interviews coming in left and right and the identities of the stories and Christopher gradually become more befuddled.
The impressive versatility of Domhnall Gleeson (who at times looks like a Buster Keaton under study) is remarkable. He brings integrity and vulnerably to a man who gifted the nation with a means to escape into a world of enchantment and familial idealism.
Margot Robbie has the more tricky role in making Daphne Milne (who looks more like a mobs wife when she puts on a fur coat) both sympathetic and pretty stand offish. She’s outspoken but loving even if it was a little misplaced at times, Robbie manages to pull it off especially when working alongside Kelly McDonald’s nanny Olive who always has a winning, sparkly presence. Olive shows more of a maternal love for Billy that’s just so natural and brings a nice delicacy to their bond.
In his debut role, young Wil Tilston is fantastic as Christopher. There’s earnestness, honesty and innocence he brings to Christopher that whenever he says “sorry dad”, your heart just melts.
Throughout the film, Milne’s affliction with PTSD shakes him to the core and imbalances him to a point of collapse with anything resembling banging or clanging. The immersion for us to feel his psyche at times aren’t always that effective but the film as a whole is anchored by such sentimentality that whatever flaws are apparent can be offset soon after.
At one point, Milne prophesizes that the world will soon forget about Winnie The Pooh but instead it endured as a testament to what stories do for people in times of crisis, to transport them to another reality to cope with their own. For fans of what’s been touted as the most beloved children’s book of all time, this is a must see. It has tender spirit and inspiration to spare that’ll remind everyone of how a little honey loving bear touched millions by his friendly, unassuming and compassionate candour with very simple but effective life lessons to teach generations to come.