London playwright Alan A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffered from a serious case of shell-shock, known today as PSTD, when he returned to England from The Great War. Loud noises, corks popping, bright lights and especially bees would bring him back to horrors of the trenches on the Western Front. During one of his episodes, his illustrator friend Ernest Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore), who was at Passchendaele during the war, remarks that they both would be better if they could just get their heads right.
In order for Milne to work on getting better, he must first get a change in environment. Though his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) craves the fast pace lifestyle of London, it was clear that the war took a great toll on the English people. The ramifications of a generation of first sons going off to war manifested in a shortage in marriages, especially considering many of the men who returned were prone to sudden fits of anger. By moving to Sussex countryside, Milne was allowed to channel his creative energy into his writing. More importantly, it gave him time to reconnect with his neglected son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whose nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald), often took the role child’s default parent.
Director Simon Curtis takes his time with Goodbye Christopher Robin, carefully establishing the various elements that would make up Milner’s most iconic work, Winnie-the Pooh. He methodically introduces, through the help of Milner and his wife, items and animals that will become staples of the fictional world he creates. Audience will be shocked to discover that Winnie-the-Pooh was initially going to be another animal entirely.
Cinematographer Ben Smithard plays a large role in bringing Milner’s story to life. From the opening shot light and shadow play a prominent part in displaying the mythical Hundred Acre 100 Wood. Smithard lens captures the energy and life of the landscape, adding a magical vibe to each game of Poohsticks flowing downstream below. His use of natural light, when focusing on interior scenes at the country house, or the moonlit glow on the actors, also enhances the touching tone of the film.
One of the most intriguing elements about Curtis’ film is the way it charts challenges that Christopher endured as a result of the books. As a child he was a show pony trotted out to events to sell product, and by his teens ridiculed and bullied. All of this to seek anonymity as a young man by heading off to the front lines of the Second World War.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a sweet tale that children of all ages will find nuggets that make them smile. It’s a film that I can recommend.