TV3’s movie expert Kate Rodger discovers the true story of the Christopher Robin books and picks three old favourites to watch over the Christmas break.
Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore… these marvellous make-believe characters have been a staple childhood read for generations, A.A. Milne’s world of Christopher Robin a favourite of children and their parents the world over. The real story behind the characters is now the subject of a film, Goodbye Christopher Robin.
The first thing you need to know is that this is not a rose-tinted childhood fairytale movie for the family to enjoy on a rainy Sunday afternoon. This is a darker, far more grown-up story of a man and his family struggling through the trauma of war – a man who finds solace in his own imagination, and that of his young son. It’s also the story of how fame and celebrity can infiltrate filial relationships, a theme with resonance today.
Domhnall Gleeson (The Force Awakens/About Time) takes on Milne and does a fine job of it. Mixing stiff upper lip with the more nuanced requirements of accessing real heart is a balancing act he manages convincingly.
Australian actress Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street/ Focus) is Mrs Milne, Daphne, a glamorous socialite who loves her husband, a man shellshocked by the First World War and endeavouring to assimilate back into his London life as a well-known playwright. She is, in fact, surprisingly unlikeable, which must have been a real challenge for the terribly likeable Robbie. And while we have moments where we empathise with Daphne’s plight, it’s hard to fully understand the studied detachment she embraces when it comes to parenting.
Child actor Will Tilston plays the eight-yearold Christopher Robin, or Billy Moon, as his parents call him and, my-oh-my, this kid has a dangerous pair of the most gorgeous, cameraready dimples! He does an endearing job of making us believe he really is the cutest little Christopher Robin we’ve ever seen.
His performance becomes more central as the Milne family moves to the country, a final attempt for Alan to push through his writer’s block and pen the next best play. Instead, he finds himself getting to know his son, and in doing so he not only opens himself up as a father but as a writer too, as they explore the fertile forest of their own backyard and child-like imaginations.
This is, of course, the era of the nanny and wet-nurse, of children being paraded before their parents before dinner, speaking only when spoken to and, by crikey, don’t even think about blubbing. So it’s here we welcome the wonderful Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting/No Country for Old Men) – the stand-out as Christopher’s nanny, Olive. She brings the requisite light with a real candour and calm, elevating proceedings considerably.
Goodbye Christopher Robin explores this complicated and oftentimes very sad story delicately and accessibly, and while it won’t tick all the boxes of a classic biopic, it is an engaging insight into the world of A.A. Milne – his life, and the life of his imaginary and not so imaginary friends.
This is not a rose-tinted childhood fairytale.