I guarantee you’ll never look at Winnie the Pooh the same way again after watching Fox Searchlight’s Goodbye Christopher Robin. The dramatic film delves into the life of author A.A. Milne (played by Domhnall Gleeson) and the events surrounding the creation of the chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff. Those expecting a lighthearted tale of a boy and his beloved stuffed bear are going to be shocked to learn the real Christopher Robin was traumatized by the stories his father penned.
The film begins by addressing A.A. Milne’s struggles with what appears to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following his service in the British Army during World War I. Neither A.A. nor his wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), seem fit to raise a child, yet Daphne apparently believed adding a child to their marriage would not only save it but also ease some of her husband’s pain.
The birth was difficult and Daphne never bonded with her son, leaving him in the care of a loving nanny (the always incredible Kelly Macdonald) while she and A.A. traveled and attended society events. A move to the country helped clear A.A.’s head, but didn’t solve his writer’s block. When the prospect of her husband writing anything new dimmed, Daphne took off to spend more time partying with her high-society friends.
Left at home with neither Daphne nor the nanny available to see to Christopher, A.A. (nicknamed Blue) spent quality time with Christopher and his ever-present stuffed bear, Winnie, in the woods. The one-on-one time inspired A.A. to write stories about Winnie the Pooh and his circle of stuffed animal friends that included Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, and Rabbit.
The books were an instant hit when they were published in the 1920s and, unfortunately for Christopher, Daphne returned home and was instrumental in promoting the books. Multiple public appearances and interviews were scheduled each day for Christopher, and he grew to resent not only sharing his bear with the world but also losing the connection to his father. A.A. and Daphne were oblivious to the harm being done to their child until it was almost too late.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is inspired by real events, although the film’s approach to the real Christopher’s life during his formative years differs from his actual upbringing. The real Christopher Robin credited his mother with helping to create the Winnie the Pooh stories and said they were close when he was very young, according to an interview he did with the New York Times and what he wrote in his book, The Enchanted Place.
Minor differences between reality and fiction aside, Goodbye Christopher Robin reflects the real teddy bear-loving child’s life after he was thrust into the spotlight following the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926 and The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. The film also examines A.A. Milne’s battle with PTSD and how it affected his ability to return to his pre-WWI life and his ability to fully enjoy his success as a novelist.
There’s also an undercurrent of jealousy from A.A. Milne toward his innocent child who becomes the focus of the publicity and is embraced by the world more so than the man who wrote the Winnie the Pooh stories. That tinge of bitterness toward Christopher is portrayed beautifully by Domhnall Gleeson. Gleeson also does a terrific job in making A.A. Milne a sympathetic character, even when his actions adversely affect his young son.
Margot Robbie is equally terrific as the socialite who lacks a maternal instinct and who deserts her family at a time when both her husband and son desperately need her support. And, young Will Tilston delivers an engaging performance as the boy with the active imagination and a desire to connect to his distant father. Kelly Macdonald as Christopher’s loving nanny/surrogate mother is the voice of the audience in Goodbye Christopher Robin, ultimately demanding both parents open their eyes and face the truth of what they’ve done to their son.
Goodbye Christopher Robin goes down a dark path to reveal the world in which Winnie the Pooh was created. It’s a heart-wrenching, well told story that leaves you wanting to a hug a stuffed bear.
Directed By: Simon Curtis
Written By: Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language
Running Time: 107 minutes