Goodbye Christopher Robin: How a great children’s book hurt the child that inspired it

B+ biopic
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan
Directed by Simon Curtis

Almost everyone who can read, or has been read to, loves A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories. But according to this film, which covers some 20-plus years of Milne’s life, the stories of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and others made one child very unhappy, and that child was the real Christopher Robbin.

Cinematically, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a typical, well-made British period piece. It’s beautifully shot, capturing the English countryside as an idyllic wonderland. It’s also beautifully acted, with plenty of stiff upper lips. It tells a good story and pulls on the heartstrings.

After a brief prologue set during World War II, we meet Milne, who goes by the nickname Blue (Domhnall Gleeson). He’s a wealthy and famous playwright with a ravishingly beautiful wife. But he’s just returned from World War I, and he’s suffering from PTSD. A champagne cork, a popped balloon, or a theater spotlight can set him off.

His wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) isn’t much help. She’s cold and often cruel. After hiring a nanny for their new-born son, she says – right to the new employee’s face – that it’s good that the war created a shortage of young men. The more unmarried young women, the more potential nannies.

That new-born son is, of course, Christopher Robin. That’s just his legal name; everyone calls him Billy Moon, or just Billy.

When Mom goes to London on a shopping trip (they live in the country), and Nanny visits her dying mother, Blue is forced to become a Dad. He slowly warms to the job. Billy moon enjoys fantasies around his stuffed toys and the small, somewhat tamed forest at their front door. The father turns these adventures into a book, with the help of and illustrator friend also suffering from PTSD.

If Milne can’t write a book that will stop the next war, he can at least write one that will help make people happy for a little while.

The book becomes a huge hit, which is wonderful for Blue and even more so for Daphne. But fame weighs down heavily on Billy Moon. He soon tires of interviews, marketing events, and even marching in parades. He hates being famous, and he hates being called Christopher Robin.

The film skips quickly through his sad and difficult adolescence, and brings us to the period of that World War II prologue. Now its Billy Moon who must go to war. For Blue, a committed pacifist, this was a nightmare scenario.

Goodbye Christopher Robin reminds us that Winnie-the-Poo made countless people happy, but for the boy who made it all happen, the wonderful stories became a nightmare.

The film opens Friday, October 20th.