I’ve written before about my love of A.A. Milne’s books, and how significant they were in my development as a reader and book collector (of sorts) – I still read him relatively often, and it was with eagerness that I awaited the release of the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how accurate it would be, and I was ANXIOUS, y’all. The anxiety was not helped by the release of the trailer…
Thankfully for me – though perhaps disquietingly for those expecting something else – the film was nothing like as twee as this trailer made it seem. Yes, it includes the development of the children’s books that we all associate with A.A. Milne, but they aren’t a panacea for the world’s ills, and this isn’t a fairytale.
The film shows the period between A.A. Milne leaving WW1 and Christopher Robin fighting in WW2. Domhall Gleeson looks remarkably like Milne, and there is a plausible narrative about PTSD being one of the reasons that he needs to move to the countryside, and affecting his relationship with his young son – Christopher Robin, known to the family as Billy Moon. Whether or not he had PTSD, I don’t remember – and I don’t imagine anything like it would have been diagnosed as such in the 1920s. But it gives the film a gritty coherence. Gleeson handles it very well, although the script is a little unsubtle about it at times; it is also more or less the only plotline, other than the simple movement through time, as Christopher Robin et al grow more and more famous.
The nanny (Kelly Macdonald) is also focal, with some of the more twee and/or impassioned scenes – and an extremely moving moment towards the end – and she, as with all the cast, works well with the exceptional Will Tilston, who plays the young Christopher. He is cherubic and wide-eyed, which the role calls for, but also gets the emotion of more difficult scenes.
Margot Robbie plays Daphne, Milne’s wife, and it was exciting for me to see somebody from my much-loved Neighbours who has made good. I know she’s a big star now, but this is the first film I’ve seen her in (except for a few scenes in About Time, also with Gleeson). Their marriage is a bit of a mystery, but the film is probably accurate in showing the cracks as they want very different things. Ann Thwaite wrote that Daphne was like AAM’s whimsical characters – the problem being that he wasn’t.
Ann Thwaite looms large in this adaptation, I am thrilled to say. She was historical advisor, and it is clear throughout that her biography of Milne was a great resource for the scriptwriters Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan. Time and again, I recognised moments that could only have come from there, complemented (I imagine) by Christopher Milne’s excellent autobiographical series and A.A. Milne’s It’s Too Late Now.
I went expecting inaccuracies, but I only noticed a few (Tigger turns up too early; he was bought between the books. Christopher’s bear wasn’t actually the model for E.H. Shepard’s illustrations – those were Shepard’s own son’s bear; Peace With Honour is mentioned a long time before it existed) and a few misleading omissions (Peace With Honour flashes up at the end, but War With Honour – Milne’s corrective, as it were – isn’t mentioned; the four children’s books are more or less whipped into one, without any sense that Milne became a famous children’s writer before the Winnie the Pooh stories). Etc. etc. But it is only one film, and I couldn’t have expected them to do a roll call of all I know about Milne.
It’s a beautifully shot film, and it’s definitely a tearjerker. And I feel like I can brief a sigh of relief that, after all, AAM has been well served by Goodbye Christopher Robin.