Who knew that a cause of happiness for so many could emerge from the deep lacerations of the heart of one? At least that’s the case in Goodbye Christopher Robin, a biographical drama based on the life of A.A. Milne and his son, namesake of his main character, Christopher ‘Billy Moon’ Robin Milne.
Fans of Pooh Bear beware – this is no cutesy fantasy whereby the characters come to life and save Mr Robin. No, this is a true-to-life account of the relationship Milne had with the First World War, and the effect it had upon his family life, career, and most importantly, his son.
Meeting A.A. Milne
We see Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) in the trenches of the Somme, bombs blasting and gun shots filling the air; he never got over it. On return to ‘normality’ Milne struggles with the idea that life moves on; his unforgiving wife doesn’t allow him to reflect or acknowledge the existence of his PTSD. He stays close to E.H. Shepherd – subsequent illustrator of the Winnie-the-Pooh books and fellow soldier in war, who returns to his work at Punch magazine. Milne is angry, “they led ordinary decent folk to the slaughter” – he struggles in London.
Christopher Robin is Born
His wife gives birth. Daphne, icy but beautiful, played by Margot Robbie, sees it as a bandage for his war wounds, but finds herself resentful when she bores a son, dreading that he too will have to go to war and leave her. The family take on a nanny, increasing the distance between parents and son.
Moving to the Country
Back at work on the stage, Milne feels trapped and bombarded. He needs to escape London and swaps the West End for the Sussex countryside in order to clear his mind and write. On arrival in the country, young Christopher is gifted a set of teddy bear animals to play with and ‘Edward Bear’, whom Christopher, upon visiting London Zoo and seeing the donated Black Bear Winnie, decides to rename Winnie-the-Pooh. His father creates great stories from these characters.
Goodbye, Christopher Robin
Life for Christopher Robin continues to be fraught; his mother’s absence for London and his father’s mental unavailability, being drawn back to the fighting, leaves Christopher lonely and confused. He spends his life travelling with his father promoting the books, which he comes to resent. Tired of being a promotional figure, his father sends him to boarding school, but he is ridiculed. He begs to be allowed to join the army due to his father’s celebrity and is allowed, leaving Winnie-the-Pooh, the 100 Akre Wood, the royalties, and his childhood behind.
Whilst slightly slow in places, this is a must-watch for those of you interested in the authors behind such classic children’s books. As was the wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh V & A Exhibition which I visited recently and you can read about here, A.A. Milne, his life and his reasons for writing are so very interesting and detailed, and this movie captures some of that.