A film, that is basically the origin of Winnie the Pooh, should conjure up images of British childhood Summer days and the joy of love, friendship and family. However, once you get to the heart of the true story behind Winnie’s concept, you see a darker, more damaged story of a childhood destroyed by fame.
We are introduced to A A Milne, his wife Daphne and son Christopher Robin, and their decision to leave London behind to seek the quieter countryside, to allow him the peace and tranquility he needs, both to work and to deal with his PTSD after serving in WW1. Those glimpses of the war adds an edge to this film that might catch you off guard. Milne is shown to be damaged and detached, and Margot Robbie as Daphne, is a very unsympathetic character that is hard to like. This doesn’t mean Robbie is bad, in fact her performance is fine and exactly what is required for the role. We view her as a cold mother and selfish person, yet Robbie still manages to make her, at times, likable and sympathetic.
The real star here though is Will Tilston as poor Christopher Robin. Will has a natural charm and as we see him gradually pulled through the wringer of celebrity, we begin to see how even back then, the media and stress of public expectations can take it’s toll on all involved.
As the film enters it’s final reel, Christopher has grown up, turned his back on Winnie, and wants to make his own mark in the real world, however the real world seems to have turned it’s back on him. There are some heartfelt moments to be had here, and despite being a hardened film critic, I must admit to being swept up in the emotion. Kelly MacDonald , who plays Christopher’s Nanny, gives a charming performance as the one island of sanity and safety in his life. We see a lot of the action through her eyes, and she humanizes much of the proceedings for us.
In other aspects the film also excels. The direction is solid, the music is wonderful at all the right times, and the lighting and cinematography evokes the an almost Spielberg like quality. There are moments where we move between animation and reality, there are flashbacks and sprawling woods that look like an England where Peter Pan and The Lost Boys could have once lived in.
This film could have descended into a sugary sweet mess, but a brilliant screenplay never allows us to relax for long. Some may even find it too down beat, with the damaged characters and depressing back stories, but the film is honest and engaging, well made and surprising. It’s better than you think it is – it deserves to be seen.