Sunday, 17 June 2018

Goodbye Christopher Robin (4 Stars)

Today was a first for me. It's the first time I've sat watching a film in a German cinema with nobody else in the room. In England it happened once. I went to see "Spider-Man 2" at the UFC Great Park cinema in Birmingham in the early afternoon on a weekday. I have to explain that to people who don't know Birmingham. It's a cinema on the southern border of Birmingham, a long way from the city centre in the semi-rural area of Rubery. When it was built it was the cinema with the biggest screens in Birmingham, so it attracted a lot of visitors who were prepared to travel the long distance to see a film in high quality. A few years later larger cinemas were built close to the city centre, so nobody was interested in the Great Park cinema any more, except for those who lived nearby. I liked going there in the early 2000's because it was usually empty, especially during the daytime when adults were at work and kids were at school. When I saw "Spider-Man" there were only three people in the cinema, including me. When I saw "Spider-Man 2" I was alone. When "Spider-Man 3" was released I was feeling lazy and saw it in a city centre cinema.

There was a good reason for the cinema being empty today, on a Sunday evening. While I was sitting alone most of the people in Stuttgart were watching Germany being defeated 1-0 by Mexico in the World Cup. They should have come to the cinema with me, they would have been less frustrated.

It was a strange atmosphere in Stuttgart. Every bar, restaurant and cafe was showing the match to its customers. Even the street cafes had television sets wired up in the middle of the street, like the Kö-Gärtle pictured above. The police presence was overwhelming. There were more than 30 police vans parked in Lautenschlagerstraße, the street leading from the central train station to the cinema. The following three photos were all taken in the same street, and I have no idea how many police vans were parked in parallel streets. What were the police expecting? I checked the websites of the local newspapers this evening. There were no reports of disturbances. The police will probably smile and say it was only so peaceful because they were there.

But let's say something about the film. It's the true story of the British author Alan Alexander Milne. Before World War One, called the Great War in the film, he was a successful playwright of comedies that ran in the London West End. He and his wife Daphne were rich and in need of nothing. He served in France in World War One, which left him with trauma that lasted the rest of his life. That's an experience that I've fortunately never had to suffer. Milne himself was a pleasant character, his wife less so. She loved her husband, but she was a rich socialite who also enjoyed the London social life.

After the War the couple had a son. This was a great disappointment to Daphne, because she only wanted a daughter. She had already bought a lot of girls' clothing for Rosemarie, which would have been her daughter's name. She said the reason was that boys have to go to war, whereas girls can stay safely at home.

The son was called Christopher Robin Milne, but his parents called him Billy Moon. Unusual nicknames were a part of the Milne household. His wife called him Blue, and when he learnt how to talk his son also called him Blue.

In 1925 Milne bought a house in the countryside to get away from the big city and have more peace to write. His wife went with him at first, but she soon made an excuse to return to London. He hired a nanny to look after the house and, more importantly, to take care of Christopher Robin. The nanny's name was Olive, but in keeping with the family tradition of renaming people they called her Nou.

After a period of writer's block Christopher Robin, his stuffed animals and the woods near their house became the inspiration for Milne to write children's books. Milne wrote the stories, and his friend Earnest Shepherd drew the pictures. They walked in the woods together, and Earnest made sketches of everything he saw. Supposedly the woods in the book are so similar to the real life woods that they can be easily recognised.

Milne only wrote two books about Christopher Robin and his pet bear Winnie the Pooh, but they were so successful that at the time of his death in 1956 he had amassed a fortune of £490 million, making him one of the richest men in England. Surprisingly, Milne himself didn't become well known through the books. It was his son, not even 10 years old, who became famous. It was his son that newspaper journalists wanted to interview. This put immense pressure on the young boy.

That's the main story of the film. It's about a boy who has to grow up surrounded by publicity. The books tell a tale of a little boy walking in the woods, at peace with nature, but by telling the story the childhood innocence was lost.

"Goodbye Christopher Robin" is a well crafted film that told me all I need to know about the great author and his son. I read the Winnie the Pooh books when I was a child; now I want to read them again. I attribute that to the quality of the film.

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