WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG A bi­og­ra­phy and film ex­plore the lives of AA Milne and Christo­pher Robin

The true in­spi­ra­tion for Christo­pher Robin, and his jour­ney­in­tothedap­pled­sun­ligh­tand­shad­ow­sof Win­nie-the-Pooh’s wood­land world

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By ERICA WAG­NER

He longed for im­mor­tal­ity – but not ex­actly

im­mor­tal­ity he got,’ Ann Th­waite says to me of AA Milne, the cre­ator of Christo­pher Robin and Win­nie-the-Pooh. Th­waite and I are sit­ting by the fire in the beau­ti­ful Nor­folk mill house she shares with her hus­band, the poet An­thony Th­waite, talk­ing about Milne’s dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with his own cre­ations. The clas­sic vol­umes of verses When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six brought him the kind of fame en­joyed by just a hand­ful of au­thors; and Th­waite’s ac­claimed bi­og­ra­phy of Milne, pub­lished in 1990, of­fered a nu­anced por­trait of the writer whose world of child­hood lives for ever in the Hun­dred Acre Wood.

Now the story of Win­nie-the-Pooh’s ori­gins has been brought to life in a won­der­ful film, Good­bye Christo­pher Robin, di­rected by Si­mon Cur­tis (Woman in Gold, My Week with Mar­i­lyn) and star­ring Domh­nall Glee­son and Mar­got Rob­bie as Alan and Daphne Milne, with the new­comer Will Til­ston as eight-year-old Christo­pher Robin Milne: for the boy in the books was drawn from Milne’s adored only child. Ann

Th­waite will vouch for the movie’s ac­cu­racy: she served as an ad­vi­sor all through its mak­ing, read­ing scripts, watch­ing takes, ad­vis­ing on is­sues such as whether Milne wrote his fa­mous books on a type­writer (he didn’t). And it’s clear that the film’s stars knew that Th­waite was a rich source for their work.

‘Domh­nall Glee­son was very keen to show me that he knew the book–when we had lunch he talked about it quite a lot,’ Th­waite says. ‘Of­ten ac­tors, I know, barely have time to read a book like mine! But he was very much try­ing to get to the sort of per­son Milne was. He was say­ing how easy it was to imag­ine that, and try­ing hard to bring him to life – which was very nice for me.’

Milne didn’t set out to be a writer for chil­dren. Be­fore When We Were Very Young was pub­lished in 1924, he had been a suc­cess­ful play­wright, part of a cir­cle that in­cluded JM Bar­rie, HG Wells and PG Wode­house. It was as a drama­tist he hoped to be re­mem­bered: but dra­mas such as Mr Pim Passes By and The Dover Road are works for the archives now. He would write that he had striven for suc­cess ‘… lit­tle think­ing/ All my years of pen-and-in king/ Would be al­most last among/ Those four tri­fles for the young ’.

The story that isn’t told in the film is of the break that came be­tween the adult Christo­pher Robin and his par­ents. Af­ter his ser­vice in World War II, Christo­pher Robin strug­gled to find work. He had, Th­waite says: ‘all sorts of dreary and un­suit­able jobs’. And as Christo­pher Robin wrote: ‘In pes­simistic mo­ments, when I was trudg­ing Lon­don in search of an em­ployer want­ing to make use of such tal­ents as I could of­fer, it

Be­low: AA Milne with his son Christo­pher Robin in 1926

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