Having recently watched a film at the theater, about this famous young companion to Winnie the Pooh, I was intrigued when a movie from last year, Goodbye Christopher Robin, appeared on Direct TV. Undecided about whether it was really necessary to view another movie that seemed similar to the theater version I had just seen, I tuned in for a few minutes in the middle of the story.
It was immediately obvious that this film about a boy and his imaginary friends had a very different tone. And rather than focusing on the relationship between Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear, this movie provided a peek into the complex relationship between AA Milne and his son. My intrigue shifted into curiosity. I recorded the movie and watched it a few days later.
Goodbye Christopher Robin stars Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, and Will Tilston. This biographical drama directed by Simon Curtis carries a PG rating for a few war scenes and adult situations, and has a run time of 1 hour and 47 minutes.
Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall), who goes by the nickname Blue, returns home from WWI suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Crowds and loud noises set his nerves on edge and the pursuits that once interested him, such as writing plays, no longer have the same appeal.
His pretty socialite wife Daphne (Robbie) tries without success to call forth the man she knew before the war. She at last resorts to having a baby, with the hopes that a child will cheer Blue up and restore his spirits.
After a painful labor and delivery, both parents find it difficult to connect with their infant son. Daphne vehemently hoped for a daughter. Blue is uncomfortable around children and doesn’t know how to relate to a child or play.
Their solution is to hire a nanny to care for the child and for the next eight years Christopher Robin (Tilston), called Billy Moon by his family, is cared for by Olive (Macdonald), whom he calls Nou. Daphne and Blue travel and attend gatherings. He writes a couple of plays but feels increasingly unsatisfied with being a playwright. Daphne immerses herself more and more in London society.
When Blue decides he cannot abide city life any longer, he purchases a country estate near a huge wooded acreage, and leaves the noise and bustle of London for the peace and quiet of Cotchford Farm in East Sussex. For a time the little family and Nou live together on the farm. Daphne prefers city life however and disappears for weeks at a time during visits to London.
She brings Billy Moon gifts when she returns home…a stuffed bear, a donkey, a tiger and a tiny piglet first, and later a mother kangaroo and her joey. These plush animals become a connection to Billy’s often absent mother, and being an only child, they become his playmates.
Blue avoids his study and writing projects and spends time creating a chicken coop and finding odd jobs to do around the farm. When Nou is called away to attend to her seriously ill mother, Blue and Billy are left alone for the first time. Ill at ease at first, the father seeks to move beyond awkwardness and get to know his son.
The two finally connect over stories about Billy’s animal friends and they name each one. They decide upon Winnie the Pooh, after a real bear at the zoo, for Billy’s favorite toy. The donkey becomes Eeyore, Tigger is the tiger and the baby pig Piglet. During the weeks the two spend alone together Blue and Billy walk daily in the woods and create imaginative stories and games around the stuffed animals and pretend friends Owl and Rabbit.
Inspired by his son and the boy’s friends, Milne begins to write again…poems about Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear and later short stories. To his surprise, the adventures he pens are a huge success. However it’s not the author that everyone wants to meet, it’s the real life Christopher Robin that the world is curious about.
While his parents handle the attention well, Billy Moon resents the publicity and the intrusion into his privacy. Schoolmates tease and bully him, his life is upended and he wonders if it will ever be the same again.
This is the kind of movie that stays with me for a while. I enjoy films based on real people and events and being a fan of the Winnie the Pooh stories, this one caught and held my interest. How sad to realize that the idyllic childhood Milne wrote about was more fiction than reality, and that he found it challenging to be a father.
However, most families are dysfunctional on some level. I could find compassion within me for the behavior of the parents. Daphne had her heart touching reasons for desiring a daughter. Milne never fully recovered from the War and while he wanted most to write a book that expounded on the horrors of war, he was remembered for slim stories about a boy and his bear.
And that boy, who so resented being made a celebrity, had to find his own way to make peace with who he was and the exploitation he felt from his father. Their lives weren’t all bad, nor were they always good. They were real though and the Milnes struggled and learned and made decisions, poor ones and better ones, that affected them for many years.
Goodbye Christopher Robin explores the darker side of a familiar story that we think we know. At its core, this is a movie about family and relationships and growing up. It’s thoughtful and insightful and tugs at the heart, all important features of an excellent film that sends the viewer to Google to search deeper.
Goodbye Christopher Robin…hello Billy Moon.