Goodbye Christopher Robin

Goodbye Christopher Robin, Simon Curtis’s biopic of Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne and his only child, Christopher Robin, is stuffed with weighty topics: war and PTSD, the writing life, the crippling emotional reserve of the British. But the movie’s focus on the caustic effects of celebrity make this narrative set in the first half of the 20th century particularly relevant for the media-frenzied 21st—especially in the wake of nonstop news stories about camera-mad parents and their needy offspring. Milne and his son were both private people, but the father was better equipped for the spotlight.

In 1925, still shell-shocked from combat at the Somme in World War I, and despising the superficiality of London society, Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) moves to a farm in Sussex with his wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), and their preschool son, nicknamed Billy Moon (Will Tilston). Already acclaimed as a humorist, playwright, poet, and novelist, Milne finds the peace he’s been seeking, but he’s slow to resume writing. Daphne, not the most doting of mothers, returns to the gaiety of London, leaving her husband and child to bond; their time together inspires Milne’s hugely successful foray into children’s fiction.

“I suppose that every one of us hopes secretly for immortality,” Milne wrote in 1926, the same year Winnie-the-Pooh unexpectedly fulfilled his wish. In Goodbye Christopher Robin the press and retailers oblige fans by pushing Billy further into the public eye, where his overstuffed schedule denies him time alone with his father and he struggles to distinguish himself from his fictional counterpart. A fabricated sequence in which the family does a New York promotional tour suggests that Milne’s pursuit of publicity was obsessive and supports the sense of the adult Billy (Alex Lawther) that his father ruined his life.

At the film’s end Christopher comes to see Winnie-the-Pooh as a healing force because of the solace the books offered his fellow soldiers in World War II. But in actuality Christopher Milne’s difficulty finding gainful employment after the war marked the beginning of a long estrangement from his parents. As he recalled in the first of his own memoirs, The Enchanted Places, “In pessimistic moments . . . it seemed to me, almost, that my father had got to where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders . . . and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.” Autobiography helped Christopher come to terms with A.A. Milne and his legacy. But that’s another story, about a much less famous adult, so don’t expect the movie version anytime soon.  v