Bit­ter­sweet dreams in the house at Pooh cor­ner

Sunday Herald Life - - FILM REVIEW - By Demetrios Matheou

Good­bye Christo­pher Robin (PG)

WE’RE ac­cus­tomed to the dra­matic notion of suc­cess com­ing at a price – some­one los­ing their fam­ily through hard work, or aban­don­ing ide­al­ism, or sell­ing their soul to the devil. That price is not, tra­di­tion­ally, paid by a child. Yet that was the case with the fame cre­ated by one of the world’s most fa­mil­iar chil­dren’s books: Win­nie-thePooh. That some­thing that has brought so much plea­sure could also bring such an­guish is the sub­ject of an odd drama that adds a bit­ter-sweet taste to nos­tal­gia.

The film charts the writer AA Milne’s cre­ation of the an­thro­po­mor­phic teddy bear and his friends, in two books and a se­ries of po­ems, and the fam­ily reper­cus­sions when the books be­came world fa­mous. At the same time, the story is book­ended by the two world wars, and con­cerns the sheer power of heart­warm­ing sto­ries as an an­ti­dote to war.

It opens with the conclusion of the First World War. Milne (the ever-busy Domh­nall Glee­son, in be­tween stints as a Star Wars vil­lain) has re­turned from the Somme, suf­fer­ing with post trau­matic stress dis­or­der and deeply dis­il­lu­sioned. The thought of picking up his ca­reer as a lauded comic writer, both for the satir­i­cal Punch mag­a­zine and in the West End, quickly ap­pals him.

He de­cides to leave London so­ci­ety for a quiet life in the country, where he will write pros­e­lytis­ing anti-war prose. Milne ar­rives at his new house on the edge of Ash­down For­est in Sus­sex, with his re­luc­tant wife Daphne (Mar­got Rob­bie), his eight-year-old young son Christo­pher Robin (Will Til­ston) and the boy’s nanny Olive (Kelly Mac­don­ald).

At this stage we’ve been in­tro­duced to an English elite who, Milne’s ide­al­ism notwith­stand­ing, are not very sym­pa­thetic. He is stiff and rather cold, his wife a flighty so­ci­ety belle who be­lieves that child­birth is where her moth­er­hood ends, the pair so aw­fully posh that they’re sim­ply aw­ful. The boy is left al­most en­tirely in the hands of the nanny.

If it were to stay in this vein, the film it­self would be­come tire­some. But cir­cum­stances lead to Milne hav­ing to fi­nally do some par­ent­ing. And so he dis­cov­ers his son’s sweet soul and sense of ad­ven­ture. As they roam the woods to­gether, in­vent­ing sto­ries, the creative writer riff­ing off the young boy’s nat­u­ral imag­i­na­tion, Pooh is cre­ated be­tween them.

THERE’S a third cog in the wheel of course, Milne’s friend and il­lus­tra­tor EH Shep­ard (Stephen Campbell Moore), him­self a war vet­eran who, like Milne, is vul­ner­a­ble to sud­den loud bangs that trans­port him back, in his case, to Pass­chen­daele. In the ru­ral par­adise that gives rise to Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood, cre­ativ­ity helps both men move for­ward.

For the boy, who be­lieves he has been hap­pily in the midst of a pri­vate ad­ven­ture, the ap­pear­ance of the book and ac­com­pa­ny­ing me­dia frenzy comes as a ter­ri­ble shock. “I wanted a book for me, not about me,” the poor lad com­plains, as the world at large wants a piece of “Christo­pher Robin”.

Though Milne can hardly be blamed for seeing a good story when it’s star­ing him in the face, there’s a real air of ex­ploita­tion in the prof­itable but un­com­fort­able syn­ergy be­tween fact and fic­tion that de­stroys the boy’s child­hood. The film becomes ever more pow­er­ful as fa­ther and son at­tempt to navigate that dam­age, par­tic­u­larly a few years later, as the Sec­ond World War looms.

On the pe­riph­ery, the fe­male characters present po­lar op­po­sites: Daphne an ap­palling mother who is the real “stage par­ent” in the fam­ily; Olive, played with her usual, unerring truth­ful­ness by Mac­don­ald, the rooted, warm-hearted an­chor in a lonely boy’s life.

Domh­nall Glee­son and Will Til­ston in Good­bye Christo­pher Robin

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