THE COLOUR OF HONEY
Domhnall Gleeson’s take on Winnie the Pooh’s creator is not child’s play
23 SEPTEMBER 2016 is a landmark day on Goodbye Christopher Robin, a tightly focused biopic of Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne.
Empire is in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex on the actual bridge where Poohsticks, the game played by Pooh and friends, was invented (a stone noting the fact has been discreetly covered up). Tourists from Canada, Scotland and Japan wait to pass as Domhnall Gleeson as A(lan) A(lexander) Milne and nine-year-old Will Tilston as his son Christopher Robin drop sticks, then leg it to the other side of the bridge to see whose emerges first. A props man stands in the water to recycle sticks.
“This is the point in the film where Alan and Christopher Robin are getting to know one another,” says Gleeson, retaining a pitch-perfect upper-class English accent. “Alan has been on a tough journey and, all of a sudden, the innocence of the boy and childhood is just rubbing off on him. It’s giving him a new lease of life.” This “tough journey” is Goodbye Christopher
Robin’s dramatic hook. As written by Frank Cottrell-boyce, the creation of Pooh, Piglet and co is informed by Milne’s struggles with post-world War I demons, his relationship with wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and the tensions caused when Christopher Robin becomes the prototype child celebrity. “It’s not a sickly sweet film,” says director Simon Curtis. “There’s pain and distress as well.”
Despite being near universally popular, Gleeson didn’t grow up on Pooh (so to speak), which he thinks is an advantage. “Having a bit of a cold eye is good because you warm up to the man every day,” he says. “We shouldn’t have to know about Winnie the Pooh for it to necessarily mean something. For me it’s about a father and a son, and a man struggling with PTSD.”
With that, the actor returns to his sticks. And for a glorious moment, the line between innocent childhood and tormented adulthood is blurred.
above: Will Tilston as Christopher Robin, clutching the soon-tobe legendary bear; Kelly Macdonald plays nanny Olive; Director Simon Curtis (right) joins Tilston and Domhnall Gleeson (as A.A. Milne) on the Poohsticks bridge in the Ashdown Forest; Margot Robbie completes the family as Milne’s wife, Daphne.