My wife has the entire collection of Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, featuring the illustrations by E.H. Shepherd, but they’re not something I’ve ever actually read. I’m probably more familiar with the illustrations than the stories themselves and the fact that Christopher Robin was real, along with the stuffed toys that eventually became the characters and friends we all know and love. But I had no idea that the real Christopher Robin actually grew to hate being Christopher Robin and how much of a negative impact his fathers work had on his early years. Goodbye Christopher Robin tells us that story.
We begin with a brief scene of despair following the receipt of a telegram at the Milne home in 1941. Before we have time to fully understand what’s going on, we’re whisked back to World War I where A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is fighting in the trenches. Following the war, Milne (or “Blue” to his friends) tries to live out a normal life in London, working as a writer with wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and their young son Christopher Robin. Unfortunately though, Milne suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, meaning that the bright lights and loud noises of London regularly take him back to the horrors of World War I and begin to effect his life and his work. Deciding to move his family to a farmhouse in Sussex, Milne hopes that the peace and quiet of the countryside will allow him to concentrate on getting back into his writing.
As he struggles to write the book he wants to write, Daphne heads back to London, promising only to return when he begins writing again. At the same time, beloved nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) takes time off to look after her mother, meaning that Milne must finally spend some time with Christopher Robin, getting to know his son and enjoying time together in the large woods surrounding their home. It’s a slow process though, with the occasional PTSD trigger affecting the already strained father-son relationship, but they soon begin fleshing out stories, characters and habitats for what will become Winnie the Pooh and friends. When Milne invites his friend E.H. Shepherd down to start sketching the woodland and Christopher Robin at play, things really begin to take shape and it’s not long before Milne has published his Winnie the Pooh stories. And they’re an instant hit.
To the disappoint of A.A. Milne, much of the books attention is focused towards Christopher Robin who is immediately thrust into the limelight. Forced to endure endless photo-shoots and interviews, participating in a tea party with children who have won a competition and being constantly hounded by the press. His parents revel in the success thought, not really acknowledging the effect it’s all having on their young son while they swan off to parties and holidays leaving the nanny to look after Christopher Robin and his increasingly busy schedule. Even a telephone call home from Milne to Christopher Robin to see how he is turns out to be part of a radio broadcast. He feels his life isn’t his own anymore, and that Christopher Robin is just a character in a book. Even when he heads off to boarding school, he cannot escape the curse of Christopher Robin and is constantly bullied because of it.
It’s thanks to the amazing cast, particularly Gleeson and newcomer Will Tilston, that all of this works so well. Building to a highly emotional ending (yeah, I cried!), Goodbye Christopher Robin is a wonderfully touching story. Emotional and hugely enjoyable.