Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Goodbye Christopher Robins: How a Family Got Swallowed Up by a Hundred-Acre Woods

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robins (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Of all the good that came from A.A. Milne's writings about Winnie the Pooh, the one who got the least good from it was C.R. Milne, the son of the author, and the original, Christopher Robin. The sad story of the effects on the growing up of the child who was known by his parents as Billy Moon is told in the excellent British film, Goodbye Christopher Robins.

A.A. Milne (true name Alan Milne) suffered from PTSD as a result of his experiences serving in the British Army during World War I. When he returned home after "the war to end all wars", the successful playwright decided to leave the excitement of London to live in the quiet countryside, where he would write a book against wars.

He was married to socialite Daphne, who preferred the exciting life of the big city, but she followed Alan to the country life, where they had a baby boy whom they named Christopher Robin. Only, planning ahead, Daphne decided they were going to have a girl (because if they had a boy he might end up going to war one day and she couldn't have that), and while they waited for the child's birth they nicknamed it Billy. After the baby was born they retained the nickname Billy and because of a fluke in pronunciation gave him the second name Moon.

Daphne wasn't happy with her birthing experience, and Alan needed quiet to write his book, so they hired a nanny named Olive, and off the mother and father would go to do their own thing, leaving Billy Moon in the care and raising of Olive. But Alan had writer's block and found it more interesting to spend time with Billy Moon as the young lad was growing up, so Daphne decided to leave for the big city until Alan started writing again.

Still, Alan had writer's block as he worked on his book promoting peace over war. Then Olive's mother became sick and she needed time away. With both Daphne and Olive away, it left Alan and Billy Moon on their own, giving their relationship time to grow naturally. They spent long hours together exploring the surrounding hundred acre wood, making up stories featuring the stuffed animals that filled Billy Moon's life and the nature of the woods. That gave Alan Milne an idea for a book. He invited an illustrator friend over to make some drawings. A poem emerged with a couple of drawings, which Alan sent to Daphne, and she sent it to a magazine, and because of the poem the magazine had its largest circulation ever. Alan wrote the book featuring a boy named Christopher Robins and a little bear named Winnie the Pooh and his friends of the Hundred Acre Woods. It was an instant success.

The world became enamored by the book, its characters, and the real Christopher Robins. The mother became excited by the publicity and success, and Billy Moon was swept up into the whirlwind of publicity stunts, reporters and photographers, book signings, and far less quality time with his father.

Goodbye Christopher Robins covers all this and more. It's the story of a boy who asks his father to write a story for him and finds his story, and his name, taken from him and given instead to the world. It's actually even more complex than that.

Olive sees all this happening and rather than participate any longer in the robbing of the boy's precious childhood, she leaves the family. Realizing his mistake, Alan Milne promises Billy Moon he will never write another Winnie the Pooh story, then he sends Billy Moon to a boarding school. But what he thinks will be a relief for the boy is really just the same, because there is nowhere that Christopher Robin can escape his formal name. Thus, at age 18, Christopher is ready to shed his identity by joining the British Army during World War II. Ready to leave for service on a departing train, his farewell to his father is an anguished rant about his lost childhood. Alan Milne is devastated, but there is nothing he can do. A more anonymous C.R. Milne leaves for war. Sometime later, Alan receives a telegraph message advising him that his son is missing in action and presumed dead. But that's not where the story ends. It actually ends happily ever after.

Goodbye Christopher Robins is a lavishly cinematographed film, which is shot entirely in England. Now, England will always be England, regardless of the period or era, and it gives itself to lush images. The characters are comely, with Domhnall Gleeson as a reticent A.A. Milne, Will Tilston as a cheerful 8-year-old Billy Moon, and Alex Lawther as a much anguished 18-year-old Christopher. Margot Robbie plays the self-centered Daphne, while Kelly Macdonald plays the care-giving Olive. It's a beautiful film reflecting on the ravages of war on society and the price paid by innocent youth for living with success.

This is a film most ages can watch and enjoy. Younger ages might need help understanding the complexities of relationships, however. But most will enjoy understanding the story behind Christopher Robins and Winnie the Pooh and how a family got swallowed up by a hundred-acre woods.

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