There’s something dark in the woods

Goodbye Christopher Robin

***** Very Good

What’s it about? The story of the family behind the creation of the world’s most popular children’s fiction character, Winnie the Pooh.

Who directed it? Simon Curtis, who first came to attention with the excellent My Week With Marilyn (2011), and more recently directed Woman in Gold (2015).

Who is in it? Domhnall Gleeson plays author-playwright A.A.Milne, who created the character of Winnie out of bedtime stories he made up for his son, Christopher Robin. Gleeson was seen earlier this year as the cynical CIA controller in Tom Cruise vehicle American Made. Milne’s wife, Daphne, is played by the Australian actress Margot Robbie, in a big shift from her last role in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Will Tilston makes his cinema debut as the young Christopher, with Alex Lowther playing the young-adult Christopher, a role perhaps too similar to his performance as the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2014). In a role that could have been made for her, Kelly Macdonald, last seen in T2 Trainspotting, plays Christopher’s nanny, Olive.

My View: A film about Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh probably creates expectation/trepidation of honeyed sentimentality. There is sunshine and sweetness in evidence, but also plenty of dark shade and sour notes.

The whole is a bittersweet creation that covers ground a long way from the innocent pleasures of life in the Hundred Acre Wood.

The opening sequence takes us from sun-dappled countryside to Western Front trenches to 1920s posh society party, laying out the themes to be explored.

Milne is psychologically damaged by his experiences on The Somme during World War One. Daphne is a party-loving girl-about-LondonTown, for whom the ‘mechanics’ of giving birth to their only child come as a traumatic shock (how she thought it was going to happen, having presumably been conscious during the child’s conception, is a mystery the film wisely ignores).

Together, they make very selfish and neglectful parents. Their son finds affection and attention mainly from Olive.

Milne’s magical creation of Winnie and the other animals in the woods comes out of a rare period of time when father and son bond (Daphne has gone back to London for a season of parties). It could have been the start of a much closer and happier relationship.

Instead, as the Milnes rapaciously exploit the commercial opportunities arising from the Pooh books’ extraordinary popularity, their son is left more isolated and miserable than ever.

This is a child who is invited to the House of Lords, but yearns for some sign of love from his parents. He is left wanting for nothing, when all he really wants is them.

Instead, they steal his childhood and sell it in a raffle, the lucky winners having the chance to have tea with “the happiest boy in England”.

The final part of the film, with a reconciliation that did not happen to the real Milne family, is the one moment when the syrup is laid on too thick. But the dark, chewy stuff that comes before makes this forgivable.

Watch this film if: you suspect that, behind every apparently happy family, there’s a story of secret sorrows.