A child sac­ri­ficed?

A mag­i­cal story rose out of the ashes of post-war Bri­tain and brought hope with it – but at a cost, learns Da­mon Smith

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - What's On - - CINEMA -


The dark age of celebrity par­ents mon­etis­ing their cheru­bic chil­dren dawned many years be­fore the scourge of self­ies, so­cial me­dia and smart phones.

In the hand­somely crafted drama Good­bye Christo­pher Robin, bat­tle-scarred au­thor A.A. Milne and his wife Daphne treat their young son as a sales tool in the mid-1920s to pro­mote the lit­er­ary ad­ven­tures of a hunny-lov­ing bear called Win­nie-the-pooh.

A ten­der ex­change by tele­phone be­tween fa­ther and son is broad­cast live on the ra­dio with­out the boy’s con­sent or prior knowl­edge, a trip to the zoo turns into a cal­cu­lated photo op­por­tu­nity with the res­i­dent brown bear, and play­time is cur­tailed to make way for a busy sched­ule of in­ter­views and meet ’n’ greets.

The sac­ri­fice of one lit­tle boy’s child­hood in­no­cence for the hap­pi­ness and heal­ing of a shell-shocked Bri­tain, which has been dev­as­tated by the Great War, is at the wounded heart of Simon Cur­tis’ pic­ture. The script, co-writ­ten by Frank Cot­trell-boyce and Simon Vaughan, grad­u­ally ex­poses the an­guish and re­sent­ment that fes­tered be­neath the Hun­dred Acre Wood. Milne (Domh­nall Glee­son) re­turns to Lon­don from the trenches, where he wit­nessed hun­dreds of coun­try­men cut down in their prime. “Find some­thing to be happy about and stick to that,” glibly sug­gests his wife Daphne (Mar­got Rob­bie), who can­not un­der­stand her hus­band’s in­ner tur­moil. An­gered by the sense­less loss of life, Milne aban­dons the cap­i­tal for a quaint house in Ash­down For­est, trans­plant­ing Daphne, their young son Christo­pher Robin (Will Til­ston) and the boy’s nanny Olive (Kelly Mac­don­ald) to the verdant idyll.

Milne hopes to pen a fierce re­buke against war, but is re­peat­edly dis­tracted by his son. “I’d re­ally like if you wrote a book for me,” says Christo­pher Robin sweetly. “I’d def­i­nitely read it.”

A walk with the boy through the sun-dap­pled land­scape fer­tilises Milne’s imag­i­na­tion and he con­tem­plates a book that mag­i­cally brings to life his son’s menagerie of stuffed toys in­clud­ing a mo­rose don­key named Eey­ore and a porcine runt called Piglet.

Good friend Ernest Shep­ard (Stephen Camp­bell Moore) il­lus­trates these en­chant­ing es­capades, which take the Milne clan around the world, in­clud­ing glam­orous New York.

“It’s just like Lon­don, but with more money!” chirrups wide-eyed Daphne. Good­bye Christo­pher Robin is a classy evo­ca­tion of an era that tore count­less fam­i­lies apart.

It’s an emo­tion­ally chilly pic­ture, re­flected in Glee­son’s re­strained per­for­mance, which in­ter­nalises Milne’s post-trau­matic stress and shuts out his fam­ily as well as us.

That fa­cade frac­tures in a cou­ple of scenes, in­clud­ing one mourn­ful heart-to-heart with his teenage son (now played by Alex Lawther) over­look­ing the East Sus­sex coun­try­side. Rob­bie rel­ishes her flashier, if un­der­writ­ten char­ac­ter, while Mac­don­ald pro­vides warmth as the nanny, who recog­nises the dam­age be­ing wrought on her dim­ple-cheeked young charge.

Domh­nall Glee­son and Will Til­ston in Good­bye Christo­pher Robin

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