I loved the Winnie the Pooh books growing up. Even as a teenager, when my brother and sister were in their twenties, we would all still read the stories out loud to each other, looking for deeper meaning in the adventures of simple Pooh, anxious Piglet, pessimistic Eeyore, hyperactive Tigger, wise Owl, nervous Rabbit and sweet Christopher Robin.
So naturally, I was thrilled when I heard that there was going to be a film about A.A. Milne, the author of these beloved books, and the genesis of his inspiration for them. I even e-mailed the trailer to my siblings, and we all got teary eyed watching it.
So did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no.
The movie, which opens today, Oct. 13, was an interesting—and also surprising—way to learn of the real life story behind the books and the fractured relationship between author Milne and his son Christopher Robin. It’s a cautionary tale about how professional success does not prevent personal failure.
Milne (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is a sensitive, yet bitter and shell shocked veteran of World War I who is also a frustrated playwright. He yearns to pen a tome about the horrors of war, but can’t seem to find any support. His social butterfly wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) is worried that his preoccupation with war could hurt their social status and seems more concerned with the latest fashions and parties.
Watch: Margot Robbie and Tom Ackerley Got a Dog!
Eventually, Milne convinces Daphne to move from London to the English countryside where he can have peace and quiet to think and write. Once there, neither of them seem to care much about spending quality time with their son, whom they called “Billy Moon,” so the child spends most his days with his beloved nanny (Kelly MacDonald) and his coterie of stuffed animals.
But when Daphne goes back to London and the nanny has to leave for a few days, father and son are finally forced to interact. As they go on walks through the woods, play “pooh sticks” in the river, and have tea parties with Billy’s colorful menagerie of toy creatures, Milne becomes inspired to write about their adventures and create new fanciful stories.
It’s all very romanticized, and for anyone who has read the books, it’s nostalgia that pulls at the heartstrings.
Once the whimsical books become a huge success however, Billy finds himself over scheduled with public appearances and book signings, playing the book’s earnest protagonist Christopher Robin. And just as he begins to resent his father for putting him through this dog and pony show, Milne grows jealous of his son for getting more attention than himself, the books' creator.
Things come to a head when Billy goes off to boarding school and is teased relentlessly for being a sissy—the kid who had a stuffed bear as a best friend—and his resentment toward his father for even writing the books in the first place only grows. At one point, he confronts Milne asking if their games were even real of if it was all simply research for the books.
All in all, this is an old fashioned piece of filmmaking suitable for the whole family and perfect for the upcoming holidays. I won’t go into details about how it all ends, but here are five things to especially love about this film.
1. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY
This film is beautiful to watch, from the chic London parties to the endearing scenes of a father and son walking through the woods, backlit by a setting sun or frolicking in a snowy meadow. Everything seems to bask in a glow soft warm hues and yellow tones—reminiscent of the very honey that Pooh loves.
2. WILL TILSTON AS CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
Whichever casting agent found this cherubic child should be given a raise immediately. Tilston has the face of an angel and his portrayal of Christopher Robin/Billy Moon is simply adorable. From his bowl haircut to his shorts, smocks and white knee socks, you’ll want to take him home and give him a cup of hot cocoa.
3. DOMHNALL GLEESON
You may not know him by name, but you’ll probably recognize this versatile Irish actor from About Time, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens among many other films. This fall alone, he’s in American Made, Mother, and Star Wars the Last Jedi. His portrayal of Milne is layered as a creative man at once wounded and vulnerable, yet selfish and preoccupied. He seems to want to connect more with those around him, yet appears incapable of fully giving himself over to deep intimacy.
4. THE STUFFED ANIMALS
There wasn’t as much focus on these eccentric characters as I would have liked, but they did appear in several scenes, including those where Robbie as Daphne is at her most likeable. The playful made-up voices she puts on for her son’s toys as a way to bond with him are endearing. I wanted to hear more lines from the actual stories though and learn how Milne created each animal’s distinct character.
5. THE COSTUMES—ESPECIALLY ROBBIE’S
Vintage fashion hounds will lust over Robbie’s delicately beaded period frocks and silk stockings, lady-like gloves, and prim bags. Some standouts include a cream colored fur trimmed coat, a jaunty emerald hat, a romantic floral dress with a matching straw hat, and a black flapper gown trimmed with silver beading. Bravo to costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux for creating a wardrobe to covet.