A Review by K-Mac & The Sloose
Winnie the Pooh and Tigger have nearly reached their hundredth year in the 100 Acre Wood as the film Goodbye Christopher Robin hits American theatres this Friday, October 13, two weeks after its UK debut. The film is a fictionalized account of the life of author Alan Alexander (A.A.) Milne and his son, Christopher Robin (C.R.) Milne, during the post WWI period when he wrote and published the 4 children’s books which became an international phenomenon. The drama focuses on the relationship between father and son as the elder Milne deals with the effects of PTSD (then known as “shell shock”), and his son navigates the life of a child celebrity. If you are looking for a literal account of the lives of A.A. and C.R. Milne, look to their autobiographies. This is a work of fiction, not a documentary. Artistic liberties are taken to present the story which the writers, director, and editors wish to tell. That being said, Goodbye Christopher Robin is an understated and beautifully-acted film that will melt the hardest of hearts.
After returning from the Battle of the Somme in WWI, Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleason), nicknamed “Blue”, finds his former life as a comedic writer and playwright futile, longing to use his writing to turn the collective public mind toward the eradication of war. Meanwhile, his socialite wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), tries to cheer him up while chaffing under his self-imposed seclusion in the woods of Sussex. Expecting a girl, the couple have a son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston and Alex Lawther), called Billy Moon by his family. For two weeks while Nou/Nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald) and Daphne are gone, the taciturn A.A. learns to connect with his son through games and toys, becoming inspired to write the stories of Winnie the Pooh with his collaborator and illustrator, Ernest (Stephen Campbell Moore). The books’ subsequent publishing brings fame and unexpected trauma to young Christopher Robin.
K-Mac: I grew up on the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, so I was excited yet trepidatious going into the film. I hoped to see a story that captured the charm and authenticity of the children’s books without becoming saccharine, maudlin, or overblown. Truth without melodrama. I was very pleased and moved. I was very happy it wasn’t a “Disney” movie.
Sloose: I agree. It was a really well written drama. If you watch this and don’t tear up, you’re heartless.
K-Mac: You teared up?
Sloose: Yes, a couple times…you know, near the end.
K-Mac: Yay! Tears aside, I thought it was well-paced, nuanced, and honest. I found I was more moved by the inability of the majority of the characters to speak, such as Milne’s clenched jaws as he tries to tell Nou that Christopher Robin (C.R.) is presumed dead, than by Nou’s blatant outburst crusading for C.R.’s childhood. I felt Nou’s character was stereotypical and less fleshed out. But then, it wasn’t her movie. It was A.A. Milne’s movie.
Sloose: I felt that way about the mother, Daphne. I wish they had given her just a little bit more. I felt disconnected from her. I think they missed a chance for some powerful moments.
K-Mac: I disagree. I understood if not related to her. She was a woman of her time: taught to stay cheerful, never worry, never dwell on bad things. And taught absolutely nothing about the mechanics of childbirth or parenting. The distance between children and parents is a theme. The two weeks as A.A. learns to connect and play with his son is the idyllic anomaly. The rest of the movie where there is distance is what is normal.
Sloose: But it is so idyllic that C.R. resents the loss of it for the rest of his life.
K-Mac: True. Stay on topic. Besides, it wasn’t Daphne’s movie either. Again, it was A.A. Milne’s. His is the character that is the most fully formed. I will say that the movie assumes a certain familiarity with British characteristics, the stiff upper lip, the manners. As Daphne repeatedly states, “No blubbing.”
Sloose: Fair enough. I liked that there were multiple story lines. I really connected to Milne and his friend and collaborator, Ernest, as veterans dealing with PTSD. I appreciated that it wasn’t thrown in your face, just little moments here and there, both of them aware and coping as best they could. I love the scene where Ernest is triggered by the wide open field; the one thing that gives Milne peace is the one thing that sends Ernest back down the rabbit hole.
K-Mac: That’s fascinating. I didn’t see the PTSD as a through line until you made the connection. But then, I’m not a veteran.
Sloose: I also appreciate how Milne constantly asks the question: why did we fight? That resonated for me. His feeling that I’ve been through hell and no one should ever experience this again is so strong that when he finds peace with his son in the woods, he wants to share it. That peace is what becomes Winnie the Pooh and creates C.R.’s trauma. There is a great cinematic moment when C.R. walks into the toy store for a publicity tea party with contest winners that mirrors an early PTSD moment when A.A. is onstage giving a speech.
K-Mac: Yes, with the bright lights and raised noise level.
Sloose: Exactly. And both scenes recall the opening in the trenches of WWI.
K-Mac: Before he ever leaves for WWII, C.R. develops his own PTSD. Everyone has some form of trauma in this film, but the method of dealing with it changes over time. While A.A. cannot speak of his pain and Daphne believes wholeheartedly that if you don’t think about something, it ceases to exist, C.R. makes a point to speak of his hurt to his father before leaving for WWII, through jaws just as clenched as his father’s. Goodbye Christopher Robin then becomes a bittersweet look at the history of processing pain and trauma through two world wars. By looking at PTSD through the lens of antiquity, it becomes easier to assimilate.
Sloose: It’s pretty brilliant actually. And other than one Disney moment at the end, I thought it was a solid movie. It was technically incredibly sound, the cinematography, the score, the acting. It was all top notch. Judge your heart size by how much you cry.
4.5 out of 5 Silly Old Bears