Sunday, October 22, 2017


Trauma begets kidlit classic in lovely Goodbye Christopher Robin

A few weeks ago, I was ranting about biographical movies that commit a sin of admission —unable to be selective about the facts of a person's real life, they let the point of the movie drown in too many details.

But, in telling a story about A. A. Milne, author of the beloved Winnie the Pooh children's books, director Simon Curtis gets it right.

He chooses one aspect of Milne's life and career to focus on, and follows through to its conclusion. A larger picture of Milne and his era emerges along the way, but it never distracts from the emotional core of Curtis' very poignant film.

Curtis has impressive credentials for translating real-life stories to film (My Week With Marilyn; Woman In Gold). Working from a thoughtful script by veteran Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, Curtis crafts a gentle-spirited movie around a serious theme: how Milne's harrowing experiences in the First World War drove him to create the healing fantasy of Winnie the Pooh, inspired by his little son and his toy animals. Serious too is the minor theme: the effect of worldwide fame on a 6-year-old boy.

Gleeson, Tilston, and furry friends: imagination heals
In Jazz Age London, Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is a writer of frothy stage comedies who's finding it hard to adjust to his old life after a tour of duty in the trenches of France. He keeps having devastating flashbacks to the battlefield — whenever a champagne cork pops, for instance, or a car backfires.

After enduring the birth of their son, Christopher Robin, is social-butterfly wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), is eager to resume their usual round of parties and opening nights.

But Alan finds London too disturbing, and shocks his wife by moving the family, along with Olive (the always endearing Kelly Macdonald), the young nanny who has raised the boy, to a country house in Sussex, where he hopes to start writing again.

The real-life Milne, Christopher Robin, and Pooh Bear
When Alan is left alone for a few days with 5-year-old Christopher, whom everyone calls Billy (the disarmingly dimpled Will Tilston), wandering the benign, sunlit wood on their property, the two begin to bond.

Although he longs to produce a work that will convince people to abolish war, as they once abolished slavery, Alan gets drawn into the imaginative world Billy creates for his stuffed animals, which jump-starts Alan's own creativity. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet are born.

These lovely scenes between Tilston and Gleeson (reserved at first, then playfully loosening up) are the heart of the movie. The publication and immediate global mania for the Pooh books and poems go by in a fleet montage. (Director Curtis is smart enough to realize that's the part of the story we already know.)

But their father-son relationship is damaged. It's heartbreaking that they can never again regain that golden time when the stories were just for the two of them, before the whole world was watching. (Read more)

How big a global sensation was Winnie the Pooh? Winnie ille Pu was a Latin translation my parents gave me as a high school freshman studying Latin in the '60s — almost 50 years after Milne's book was published. The Tao of Pooh came out in 1982. Needless to say, Pooh, in his original and various spinoff versions, is still in print!

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