GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
About The Production
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN shines a light on the creation of renowned childhood
icon Winnie-the-Pooh. The team of director Simon Curtis and producers Damian
Jones and the late Steve Christian along with writers Frank Cottrell-Boyce and
Simon Vaughn have brought creator A.A. Milne's extraordinary life to the screen,
creating a strikingly visual and stunningly colorful world told through the
prism of a post war England eagerly awaiting for something, anything to lift
When writer A.A. Milne abandoned London for life in the English countryside, his
unexpected transformation from essayist and playwright thrust him into the role
for which he would be best remembered forever. In the woodlands of East Sussex,
Milne began to spin fanciful tales for his only child, Christopher Robin. The
fantastical stories starred the little boy and his growing collection of stuffed
animals, most notably his teddy bear, known as Winnie-the-Pooh. Collected into
two volumes, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, the stories were
instant successes when published in 1926 and 1928 respectively and have remained
a staple of childhoods around the world for nearly a century.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN'S journey to the big screen began when writer and
executive producer Simon Vaughan approached producers Jones and Christian with
an early script tracing the origins of Milne's beloved bear. "Everyone knows
Winnie-the-Pooh," said Christian. "We've all been brought up with the stories,
but very few of us actually know the story behind Pooh. We thought it was
something more people should know about."
"Simon found the story and his draft revealed this bitter sweet father-son
legacy of one of the best loved children's books in the world," says Jones.
Though he admits that it had never occurred to him that Christopher Robin was
actually Milne's own son, Christopher. "It was fascinating to learn where Pooh
came from," he says. "Like Steve, I felt a great obligation to reveal it to the
When the producers asked award winning writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Millions,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series) for suggestions on how to develop the story in
more depth, the project began to gather further momentum.
The producers were able to raise the film's public profile considerably when
director Simon Curtis agreed to join the team. "I thought Simon's romanticism
and his warmth were very good for this," says Jones. "He had great comments on
the script and a great dialogue with Frank, so he seemed perfect for the film."
Dreams were realized when they were able to cast today's fastest-rising stars
Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie in the lead roles of Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Milne.
"I think Milne's a cracking writer," says Boyce. "And this is a great story
about success and its consequences, which is always an interesting subject. A.A.
Milne was phenomenally and unexpectedly successful, which became troubling for
him and particularly for his son. We rarely tell stories about how success can
make life very difficult."
While Milne's writing has been a favorite with children around the world for
almost a century, the filmmakers agreed from the start that the movie they
wanted to make was an adult drama. "It is a fascinating depiction of parenting
in another era," says Jones. "But in addition to this magical story about a
father and son when they are left alone to create what was intended to be their
own private world, we also deal with post-traumatic stress disorder -'shell
shock' as it was called then - after World War I. Milne returned from the war
quite damaged and his escape to the countryside was the beginning of Pooh."
Director Simon Curtis was captivated by the script when he read it. "It touched
on so many issues that are really close to my heart. It's about being a parent
and having children and then having to let them go. It's about England between
the wars, which was such a momentous time. It's also about the act of creation,
about the writing of one of the most beloved stories ever written."
Boyce says that Curtis is a very different director than anyone he had worked
with before. "He is super prepared and walked a big mile to get the right
things, the right locations and the right cast. He really honed in on the things
that are important. Simon is someone who could go to a real place and make it
look magical, rather than commission a magical looking place."
The director was ready to put his stamp on the project almost immediately and
became a champion for the film, according to Christian. "Simon understood
exactly where he wanted to take it. He instantly had a vision for the film, and
beyond that, he had an enthusiasm for it. With Simon and Frank together, it
became far more than the sum of the parts. And it was just one of those very
lucky things. Everybody just happened to be in the right place at the right
time, and in the right frame of mind."
Curtis describes the film as the story of how the Milnes became wealthy and
famous beyond their dreams through the stories, and the impact that had on their
lives. "But the center of the film is this magical period when father and son
are left alone in the country for the first time. They discover each other, they
enjoy each other's imaginations and that inspires Milne to create
Winnie-the-Pooh. The time he spends with Christopher Robin helps him through the
recovery from what we now know as PTSD."
Although it concentrates primarily on the few years that gave birth to
Winnie-the-Pooh and the global phenomenon that followed, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER
ROBIN is able to tell a much larger story about Britain during a difficult era.
"Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends enchanted and charmed the world with their
innocence, but they were actually born in a harrowing time for the country and
written by a man who had been traumatized by World War I," Curtis explains. "All
of that, plus the fact that Frank Cottrell-Boyce is one of my favorite writers,
made this project irresistible for me."
CASTING THE MILNES
Alan Alexander Milne, known to friends and family as "Blue" and to the world as
the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, was already a well-known humorist and successful
West End playwright when he became world famous for his children's books. Known
for breezy, sophisticated comedies in the manner of Noel Coward, Milne never
expected that the fanciful tales he concocted for his son would win him literary
immortality and place the son he called "Billy Moon" in the glaring spotlight of
Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Milne, had just completed filming STAR
WARS: THE LAST JEDI and was looking forward to some time off, when his agent
insisted he read this script. "I read it very quickly, which is always a good
sign," says Gleeson. "It actually took me a couple of goes to realize how much
was going on in the script. Every time I read it, I found myself asking more and
more questions. The script kept on getting deeper. That I liked Simon very much
also had a big part to play in my wanting to do this."
Gleeson, says the director, had to dig deep to play Milne, a man whose
personality is the opposite of his own. "Domhnall is naturally quite
gregarious," says Curtis, "He had to play a very restrained man. But the joy was
finding those chinks in the restraint, those moments where he finds the love and
Curtis was also thrilled by Margot Robbie's response to the script. "I loved
working with her and think she's very special," he says. "In Domhnall and Margot
I got the two smartest, most brilliant of a new generation of actors. I had
never worked with either of them before and it was a joy. They bring so much to
Daphne Milne plays no small role in the creation of A.A. Milne as a children's
writer. She brings Christopher Robin the stuffed animals that inspire Pooh,
Piglet and the rest, and the two play elaborate games with them. When her
husband writes his first poem for the boy, it is Daphne who makes sure it is
published. "She becomes the driving force," Robbie says. "She does it all with
the best of intentions, never realizing the strain it will put on her family.
They never expected the WinniethePooh stories to become the phenomenon that it
did and they definitely didn't expect their son to become one of the most
recognizable faces in England."
Determined to do justice to the beloved author, Gleeson dived into his research.
He began by reading Thwaite's biography, then moved on to Christopher Robin
Milne's memoirs. "When you play somebody who really existed, you're not making a
documentary, although you really want to represent the person accurately," he
says. "But it also has to work for the story that you're trying to tell and this
isn't just Alan's story."
Gleeson found as much inspiration in what A.A. Milne did not reveal about
himself as what he does. "Christopher Milne famously said that his father spent
his whole life with his heart buttoned up inside his chest," says the actor. "In
Christopher's book, his father skips over the war terribly quickly. 'I was very
lucky' is essentially the extent of what he says. He mentions seeing somebody
else get killed, but it's a throwaway. He concentrates mostly on his childhood,
which was apparently glorious, and then a bit about his work after that."
Milne's retreat to the countryside was an attempt to find peace of mind, Gleeson
believes. "I think he found real solace in nature. Watching his son grow up in a
place that was pure, after seeing the absolute worst parts of humanity in vivid
action, brought him some hope. And certainly for our film, it's a very clear
antidote that he finds."
The actor appreciated Curtis' collaborative approach to filmmaking. "He will let
you try everything. You feel like you're being given some room to maneuver, but
it's all within his framework and it's all pointed in the direction that he
needs the film to go. He's really interested in the best that everybody has to
offer and that, for a director, is such an important thing."
Milne's wife Daphne was remarkable in many ways, but she had no time for tears
or sentimentality. Like other women of her class, she kept her child at arm's
length and preferred London's social whirl to a quiet country life.
"Daphne's part could have been written very two dimensionally," observes Jones.
"But Frank created a full, beautifully rendered character. Her relationships
with her son and her husband are complex and nuanced."
For Australian actress Margot Robbie, best known for her roles in SUICIDE SQUAD
and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, playing Daphne Milne is a complete departure.
"We've seen Margot do what Margot does brilliantly," said Christian. "Can you
imagine a bigger contrast from SUICIDE SQUAD than Milne? But from the first day,
she attacked it so brilliantly. What a great contrast to everything else that
she's ever done."
According to Boyce, casting Robbie as the brittle, controlling socialite was a
stroke of genius. "On the page, Daphne is a really exciting character, but she's
unsympathetic and difficult to like. She's not exactly a villain, but she isn't
a lovable person at all. With Margot in the role, she becomes much more
Robbie was not deliberately looking for a role so far outside her comfort zone,
but says playing Daphne was a refreshing challenge. "The script had a magical
quality about it and it captivated me," she says. "I wanted to stay in that
world a little longer. Simon and Damian's approach toward the story and the
characters was very thoughtful. Daphne is a very complicated woman, especially
when you look at her through modern eyes. I didn't want to shy away from any of
her faults. We found ways to embrace her character without making her a
For the part of Christopher Robin, the filmmakers mounted a massive talent hunt,
recruiting young hopefuls from theatrical and modeling agencies, drama schools
and prep schools. After a lengthy search, they cast newcomer Will Tilston. "It
became clear early on that Will was not only going to be able to immerse himself
in the part, but also that he had the temperament and stamina needed for eight
weeks of filming in a completely new environment," says casting director Alex
Finding a leading man born in 2009 is the stuff of nightmares for a director,
Curtis says. The last time he cast a 9-year-old boy in a lead role, it was
Daniel Radcliffe, in the young actor's first job as David Copperfield. "That
gave me some confidence that I'd find another and we did. We were totally
blessed in finding Will. He is a real joy to work with. I can honestly say, he
is one of the best actors I have ever worked with - and I have worked with Helen
Mirren, Kenneth Branagh and Vanessa Redgrave, just to name a few. He always
knows the scene and he made it very easy. We all adore him."
Among the rooms full of young contenders, Tilston stood out immediately,
according to Christian. "You know the feeling when you walk into a room with
movie stars and you get that instant charisma? You don't often get that from a
9-year-old. He's just a very cool little dude."
Gleeson, the actor who worked most closely with Tilston, says that the youngster
fit in right away. "He's generous and he's kind. He's a very young person, but
he's got a good take on life and he's nice to people. Will's an incredible mix
of things and I really enjoyed working with him. I treated him same way I would
Robbie also found Tilston's maturity remarkable for a first-timer. "He's word
perfect," she says. "He asks for another take if he needs another take. It took
me a couple of years to get the courage to do that."
For his part, Tilston seems surprisingly unaffected by his sudden success.
"Sometimes it was just what I expected, and sometimes not, but it was generally
really fun," says the young actor. "I had to do about eight auditions to get the
part. At the first audition, I was only in the room for about one minute and all
I had to say was my name and how old I was. I thought, oh, what was the point of
that? It seemed over and done with."
But in the end, the part was his and it's an opportunity he's aware he was
fortunate to have. "I've learned quite a few things and I've made a lot of
friends," Tilston says. "Simon really helped me improve in my acting. Everyone
was really nice and they've all really helped me."
A BELOVED NANNY
For the role Christopher Robin's nanny, Olive, known as Nou, Kelly Macdonald was
always the filmmakers' first choice. "Kelly has such empathy and humanity and a
twinkle in her eye," says Curtis. "She was someone we wanted right from the
get-go, and she certainly delivered."
Olive became Christopher Robin's nanny when he was very young. His parents, like
many of their generation, are distant figures who see him for a few minutes at
the beginning and end of the day, so she becomes the person that he loves most
in the world. "You've got to have an anchor for Christopher Robin," said
Christian. "Kelly's character allows you to continue to like everybody, because
you know the child is safe. She first read the script at least two years earlier
and had always been really keen to play that role. It's wonderful that somebody
so talented was so invested in the material."
Before making the film, Macdonald admits, the only thing she knew about A.A.
Milne was the he had written Winnie-the-Pooh. "He and Daphne were apparently a
very dynamic couple and very witty, like something out of F. Scott Fitzgerald,"
she notes. "The Milnes' attitude toward children was actually pretty normal for
that time, but when I read Christopher Milne's autobiography, it is quite
As much as she was able to learn about the family from her reading, there was
little information available about Olive. "She was a religious woman and she
obviously really loved this little boy," says the actress. "But I didn't want to
make her too much of a goody two-shoes. She was doing the job she was hired for,
but without Olive, he would have been in a much worse situation."
Macdonald is grateful to Curtis and the producers for allowing the actors to
have an enormous amount of input into the characters they play. Usually, she
says, by the time the actors come along, the other people involved in a project
have been on board for years and have developed firm ideas about the roles. "The
lovely thing with Simon is that nothing is set in stone," says the actress. "It
was all just coming to life. We were so blessed to have Will, who is just one of
the best actors I've ever worked with. And Domhnall's just amazing as this very
stiff, unemotional man of his time, but the emotion comes out in all the right
places. Every moment in the film has such depth."
Even Christopher Robin couldn't stay young forever, however. In the film's later
scenes, Alex Lawther, best known for his role as the young Alan Turing in THE
IMITATION GAME, plays him as young man. "We were very lucky to get Alex for the
part," says Curtis. "He manages the tricky task of playing those very emotional
scenes at the end of the film without having the usual build-up of the whole
film to get used to it, and he did it so well."
Lawther sees Christopher Robin as the original child star, struggling with both
the privilege and the disadvantages that still go along with youthful notoriety.
"WinniethePooh became so enormously popular," he says. "The stories are so full
of joy, but there is a sense that what at first was enjoyable became quite
difficult for both Christopher and Alan."
The actor read Christopher Milne's autobiographies for information on his
character, but his portrayal is based more on what he found in Boyce's
screenplay, he says. "When you're playing a biopic or a story about living
people, you're still playing what's in the script. So for me Christopher's own
writings were sort of just interesting reference points and supporting material
for the script."
Actor Stephen Campbell Moore, who previously worked with Jones on LADY IN THE
VAN and HISTORY BOYS, plays E.H. Shepard, illustrator of the Pooh books, as well
as the original Wind in the Willows. "Shepard has a very interesting
relationship with Milne," says Jones. "He met him when they worked at PUNCH
before the war. They both suffered from PTSD but Milne is a bit more buttoned up
and finds it really hard to cope. Shepard is slightly better able to deal with
it, even though he also has moments of trauma."
Moore was able to view some of Shepard's initial sketches and original drawings
at a recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was
charmed by the simplicity of the iconic illustrations and the way in which the
artist managed to create personalities for the toys. "Shepard was able to say
quite a lot with very little," according to the actor. "It was very interesting
to get into his style of drawing. I felt like I understood more about him by
following the lines. It's quite an unusual way into a character."
BACK TO THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN opens in the soft, clear light of the English
countryside, at Cotchford Farm, the bucolic retreat that Milne and Daphne
created for his recovery. It moves back in time to the 1916 Battle of the Somme,
where Milne encountered the worst of the Great War and on to Roaring '20s London
and its Bright Young Things, before returning to Cotchford Farm and the
beginnings of Pooh.
Production designer David Roger created the contrasting worlds of sparkling,
sophisticated London and the rural East Sussex estate that Milne so loved. The
Milne family's country escape is a sun-dappled portrait of a dreamlike England
between the wars: beautiful, safe and cozy. That idealized rusticity becomes the
setting for all of Pooh and Christopher Robin's adventures.
"What Milne gave to the British people of the time was his own nostalgia," says
Roger. "He projected his childhood onto Christopher through the lens of his
books and poems. It's a lovely, somewhat mythical English life that people were
yearning for, but it's always undercut by the absence of the parents."
Cotchford Farm still stands, but changes to the original architecture made it
too difficult to shoot there. Supervising location manager Camilla Stephenson
was able to find a nearby property that has retained most of its original period
features. "It's almost a carbon copy of the real house, but it still has the
1920s kitchen," says Roger. "It was just sitting there, waiting for us to do a
film about the Milnes. We had to do very little, apart from building the
Daphne's opulent garden was one of the production's most elaborate
constructions. "It starts as a bit of a rundown, messy old place," says Roger.
"Daphne decided to make it the most beautiful place in England. Over the course
of the film, it grows into the most gorgeous garden you could ever imagine, with
jasmine, wisteria and roses all in bloom."
Among the many authentic locations seen in the film are the real Pooh Bridge,
where Milne and Christopher Robin first devised the game of Pooh Sticks, and
Ashdown Forest, the wilderness adjacent to Cotchford House, that inspired the
Hundred Acre Wood. "We did think of creating our own Pooh Bridge," says
Stephenson, "It was a challenging place to get a crew in and to light it for day
and for night, but we did it."
Filming for the woodland scenes took place in both Ashdown Forest and Windsor
Great Park. "The real woods lost a lot of their ancient trees in the big storms
we had in the 1980s," says Stephenson. "We wanted everything to be as idyllic
and magical as it could, so we used Windsor Park to supplement what we shot at
For Curtis, being in the real Ashdown Forest was one of the highlights of the
shoot. "There is a rock there with a plaque dedicated to Milne and Shepard for
bringing the beauty of Ashdown Forest to the world," the director says. "We shot
Domhnall and Stephen sitting on the actual rock on that very spot they would
have sat, which was a very special moment."
Roger was surprised at the number and quality of visual references he was able
to find to help recreate some of the film's key set pieces. "There are lots of
photographs and some newsreels," he says. "The Sussex Council tracked down a
little newsreel clip of an actual pageant that celebrated the characters. We
found a photograph of these kids dressed up as the toys and there was
Christopher Robin standing in the middle of it."
In stark contrast, the Milnes' London house is a cold, austere world where a
lonely little boy lives in a sparsely furnished attic room. Using period
photographs, Roger recreated the Milnes' Chelsea home at Norney Grange in
Surrey, an arts-and-crafts manor built in 1897, and created an exterior set to
stand in for the city. "We had the advantage of visiting the Chelsea house," he
explains. "So we were able to recreate this rather lonely room at the top of the
house. There is a photograph of it where you suddenly see Christopher in a
little, dark corner, just sitting there."
Fashionably decorated by Daphne, the public spaces are art deco glamorous. "It's
got a little hint of Hollywood there," says Roger. "It makes sense that she
would be distraught when they suddenly had to go to this smelly old farmhouse."
Other real-life locations seen in the film include the Gothic-style country
manse Knebworth House, the Victorian-era jewel-box Savoy Theatre and the London
Zoo, where Christopher Robin once actually fed honey to a live black bear in its
enclosure. The filmmakers were able to use the original enclosure, which is no
longer used - perhaps for good reason.
"All the different bears, white bears, brown bears, black bears, were kept there
together," says Roger. "It is surrounded by a moat that the animals kept falling
into as they were trying to get to the public. It is absolutely terrifying that
Christopher Robin literally went into it."
Costumes and makeup for the film were treated with unusual attention to detail.
"I don't know that people realize how many hours go into a film like this," says
Robbie. "The costumes are either from the period or replicas of something from
the period. Everything has been taken into account."
Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux used period photos and museum pieces to
recreate much of the wardrobe. For Daphne Milne, a woman who has been described
as not beautiful but always beautifully turned out, she created a lavish closet
inspired by surrealist photographer and model Lee Miller. "Daphne was known for
her exquisite taste and for her extraordinary hats," says Mireaux. "She brought
a lot of color into Alan and Christopher Robin's lives. Her look is more
tailored than flapper girl. I put her in one beaded dress in New York because
that seemed the time she might push it to that level."
The designer worked closely with Robbie to find silhouettes that flattered her
contemporary beauty and yet remained true to the times and the character. The
real Daphne was somewhat theatrical in the way she looked, according to the
actress. "Her passions were clothes, jewelry, gardening and decorating. They
were the ways she channeled her creativity."
The entire wardrobe for Christopher Robin and his father had to be created from
scratch. Going back to Shepard's illustrations as well as family photographs,
Mireaux discovered that the boy wore the same old-fashioned smocks, shorts and
bowl haircut that his fictional counterpart sported. "We made those and then
some jumpers, and his underwear. We knitted his socks. Even his shoes were
Olive's uniform is also based on photographs of the period, right down to the
wimple - a cloth headdress covering the head, neck and sides of the face - that
she was required to wear when in the city. "She worked for a very fancy couple,
so she was out and about," says Macdonald. "She had to look good on their
behalf. It's all starched collars and cuffs. The wimple does make her look a bit
like a nun."
THE LEGACY OF MILNE
Boyce began his research with Ann Thwaite's definitive biography of Milne, A.A.
Milne: His Life and two of Christopher Robin Milne's books, The Enchanted Places
and The Path Through the Trees. In addition, A.A. Milne, a prolific writer of
essays, had left a literary legacy that gave Boyce a window into his world.
"Ann's book is magnificent," he says. "It really allowed me to experience
Milne's world. The Enchanted Places deals with this period of their lives
specifically and I honed in on the fact that Christopher's nanny, Olive, must
have been very important to him as he dedicated his book to her."
It has been 91 years since Winnie-the-Pooh was first published. The book has
been translated into dozens of languages, including Latin, and the original toys
have been on display at the New York Public Library since 1987.
The filmmakers are well aware that Milne's enormous legacy sets a high bar for
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. The producers hope that it will live up to the
expectations of Pooh devotees everywhere and perhaps offer them a surprising and
emotional glimpse of the man and the boy behind the beloved books.
"It's not just the kids of today," said Christian, "but it's everybody who has
grown up with those books. They all feel they own a part of Winnie-the-Pooh.
When you venture into an artist's true life, you can be absolutely certain that
amongst the audience and the critics, there will be people who know more than
you do. You've got to be very true to the story and we've done our best to do
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