The stories and poems of A. A. (Alan) Milne, loom large in the imagination and memories of most white, western people. Winnie-the-Pooh is still one of the most popular children’s characters of all time. And frolicking in 100 Acre Wood alongside Pooh and Piglet and Tigger is the idealized childhood figure of the eponymous Christopher Robin.
Christopher Milne died in 1996, having never taken any money from the stories’ royalties, and having not spoken to his mother for the last 15 years of her life.
Director Simon Curtis, working with screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, has brought to the screen the darker elements of Christopher Milne’s childhood.
Starring as Christopher is newcomer Will Tilston, who, although slightly older than the child he is portraying, is utterly believable as the five year old who inspired this whole world of story. We are given a portrait of a very real child, tantrums and all, whose understanding of the adult world is filtered through his own needs. Playing the difficult role of Alan Milne is Domhnall Gleeson, who manages to give us Milne’s PTSD, ego, self-doubt and ambition, without turning him into a monster. In the equally difficult and complex role of Dorothy “Daphne” Milne, is Margot Robbie. Robbie manages to shine on screen whilst showing us the less likeable aspects of Daphne’s character.
One of the most pleasing aspects of this film is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of blaming fame for all of Milne’s issues. He was a product of his time and place: an upper middle-class child of slightly Bohemian parents, in the 1920s. Of course he would be raised basically by the nanny. Of course he would mostly see his mother dressed up and going to endless parties. Of course he would need to keep quiet when his father was working or sleeping. This film is as much a portrait of middle-class, pre-war childhood, as it is of the Milne household specifically.
Nanny loomed large in the poems of Alan Milne -“she went and let my beetle out!”-and Christopher’s nanny, known to him as “Nou”, was someone he kept in contact with his whole life. Kelly Macdonald is moving as Olive, or “Alice” as she became in the stories…”because it rhymes with palace”, showing us emotion that many of these women went through in raising a child who was not their own. Final major cast member, Stephen Campbell Moore, is outstanding in the small but pivotal role of Ernest Shepard, Milne’s long-time friend and collaborator. As the illustrator of the Pooh stories, (and of Wind in the Willows amongst others), he, as much if not more than Milne, gave us the characters we still know today.
Visually, this film is a feast. Ben Smithard’s cinematography, along with Victoria Boydell’s editing and David Roger’s production design, blends harsh reality with fictional sequences, giving the entire work a slightly dream-like quality, which surprisingly adds depth, rather than detracting from the naturalism.
This is the sort of work the British do terribly, terribly well! It really is a stunner.
“God bless Nanny and make her good.”
Goodbye, Christopher Robin opens today at Palace Nova Eastend.
Check out the official site here.
A brilliantly realised portrait of the childhood of Christopher Robin Milne, and his struggle with fame.