For me, Winnie the Pooh started everything.
I learnt to read with Winnie the Pooh books, the first videos (yes videos – I hope some of you are old enough to remember beautiful clunky VHS tapes) I remember watching were Winnie the Pooh. My bedroom, and my nursery for that matter, were stuffed with Winnie the Pooh soft animals. I’m not even going to pretend that I got rid of any of those because they occupy a permanent space in my heart (and my loft).
Long story short, I adore Winnie the Pooh and the occupants of the Hundred Acre Wood. A lot. Always have, always will. So you can imagine my heart flipped on hearing that we were getting a creation film based on the author of my childhood. I was so damn happy. It was going to be like Saving Mr Banks all over again.
My eyes leaked for the entire 107 minutes.
The film follows the lives of the ‘real’ Christopher Robin ‘Billy’ Milne, his father and author of the series A. A. Milne, his mother Dorothy ‘Daphne’ Milne and Billy’s nanny Olive AKA Noo. Despite the happiness the series brought to millions of people at the time and in the nearly 100 years since the first book was published, the reality was very different for the family who created Winnie-the-Pooh.
Let’s start with the casting. In terms of likeness to the people they were portraying and looking the part, I think the casting directors got this spot on. Domhnall Gleeson took on the role of A.A. Milne with Margot Robbie playing his wife Daphne and Will Tilston playing an eight year old Christopher Robin. All three of the principle cast had to tackle a complex emotional depth to their characters. Gleeson and Robbie are of course seasoned pros and really captured the heartbreak of post-traumatic stress and post-natal depression respectively. These issues were dealt with in respect for the era, which was post Great War, meaning that these mental health issues had to be portrayed in a way that we knew what was going on but the characters had to kind of skirt over it and carry on as normal. As the film went on it became more immediately obvious how Winnie the Pooh and the fame surrounding it became a sort of coping mechanism for the adults to deal with their internal issues whilst their child ultimately ended up suffering because of it. Will Tilston was a little champ and a stroke of casting genius. He is so young and this is his debut film but he really looked like he belonged on the screen. He reached a depth of emotion that was both impressive and, at times, upsetting to witness. He showed incredible skills far beyond his years. I think it’s a testament to his ability that his performance had a large portion of my cinema screening – most of whom were grown men – in tears at points.
Kelly MacDonald also featured in this film as Christopher Robin’s nanny and she was glorious. She really gave a sense of just why the little boy loved his nanny so much. She has this incredibly warm and rich Scottish accent that anyone would want a nanny, grandparent or carer to have. Just like a warm hug or a hot chocolate. She is a great addition to the cast.
The scenery is one thing that I really adored and I loved what they did with it cinematically. They filmed this in the ‘real’ Hundred Acre Woods, Ashdown Forest in Sussex, which was beautiful and moving to be quite honest. I mean just look at it… **heart eyes**
This imagery contributed to my absolute favourite creative element of the film that really made the whole thing for me. It filled my heart and emotionally destroyed me in that beautiful nostalgic kind of way. When Ernest “E.H.” Shepherd, played by Stephen Campbell Moore, came along and began sketching Winnie the Pooh and the other stuffed animals with Christopher Robin, these beautiful scenes took place where the real life blended into watercolour sketches and visa versa. I can’t describe it accurately enough to do it justice. Images were sketched and when colour was added they began to move and were the live-action cast. Then live-action images of Christopher Robin playing were reduced to moving watercolour images and then to paper sketches. It was stunning and emotional and it reminded me that Winnie the Pooh is all of our childhoods coming to life right before our eyes. This film poster hints towards it, but you really have to watch the film to enjoy this.
Finally, I don’t know about anyone else but I was really interested in the look of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and co. For as long as I remember it’s been a personal dream of mine, first to ‘meet’ and now, to see the stuffed toys that inspired the stories of my childhood so it was very important to me that they look as authentic as possible – which I’m sure was also of great importance to the film creators too. Next year when I finally go to New York, one of the first places I’m visiting is the New York Public Library where they currently ‘live.’ So here’s a comparison. I think we can all agree, yet again, that the creative team hit the nail on the head here too.
All in all I thought Goodbye Christopher Robin was an excellent film. It was far more emotional than I anticipated and therefore ended up surpassing my expectations. I’d recommend this to anyone who needs a return to their childhood for a few hours. Although proceed with caution because it’s upsetting to see a world that has brought you so much joy make the family involved so desperately unhappy. Well…for most of the film anyway 😉