Like in Finding Neverland or Saving Mr. Banks, where the stories of a classic tale like Peter Pan or Mary Poppins are dramatically transported to the screen, Goodbye Christopher Robin shares the background of the children’s classics surrounding Winnie the Pooh. Here, A.A. “Blue” Milne (Domhnall Gleason) turns his explorations with young son Christopher Robin “Billy” Milne (Will Tilston) into the fine exploits of Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, and more. But at what cost to their relationship and the soul of their family?
The camera under director Simon Curtis’ watch spends most of its time on Gleason’s Blue, a young husband and soon father returned from World War I traumatized by what he’s seen, heard, and done. He believes that he’s fought in a Great War to end all wars, but grows fraught with the reactions we’d attribute to PTSD (post-dramatic stress disorder), withdrawing from his high society wife (Margot Robbie) and their young son. Having returned from war, he’s expected to pick up with the clever poems and plays he wrote before serving, and he simply can’t find the joy to write about anything.
“Life is full of frightful things [so] the great thing is to find something to be happy about and stick to that,” encourages Milne’s wife early in the film. But Milne’s PTSD is strong, flaring up at parties and with the sound of popping balloons. He struggles to understand how to relate to even his old friends, but he’s certainly distanced from a young boy who longs to adventure with his father.
Once Winnie the Pooh is created, the Milne family and especially young Billy are at the center of media attention. This only serves to further drive the wedge in their fragile relationships, as the Milnes are tugged to and fro by others’ understandings of them. Furthermore, the arrival of a second World War threatens life itself, and the family struggles to find solid ground. It’s a picture of a family in the midst of turmoil, alive but barely, and seeking respite without knowing where to turn.
Faith ultimately becomes part of the lesson, both in terms of the way that Billy is raised, the family’s beliefs, and the exploration of war itself. We see that these bonds of family and friendship will be challenged but that strong ones will not break. It’s as a reminder in our life and times that we must be aware of those around us, and certainly our children, if we want to create a better world. Following God is a necessary requirement, but to pour ourselves into work and creativity, to the detriment of our children, only leads to disaster.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is in theaters October 13.