For more than 90 years, children around the world have become engrossed in the stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and more. Beginning with a poem in the children's book When We Were Very Young in 1924, A.A. Milne's stories grew into an immortal cultural phenomenon that only expanded with time as the characters were adapted into a successful Disney franchise. The latter incarnation may be from where many today remember Milne's stories - but, back in 1920s, there was a timely urgency to their publication, with the tales unexpectedly capturing the zeitgeist of the time.

This was one of the reasons that UK director Simon Curtis was attracted to making a film about the lives of A.A. Milne and his family. "[Milne's] living in the English idyll, but underneath it, he's living with the pain of the memory of the First World War," he says. "What I hadn't realised until I got inside the film is that the reason the Winnie the Pooh stories became so famous so quickly in the 1920s, was that readers seized on them as a way of recapturing the pleasant days before the traumas of World War I.

"I certainly hadn't realised that A.A. Milne himself was very traumatised by the war. I think it does say in this film that the impact of war is not only on the men and women who fight the war themselves but on their spouses - and, in fact, on their unborn children as well."

Domhnall Gleeson as A. A. Milne, Margot Robbie as Dorothy
Domhnall Gleeson as A. A. Milne, Margot Robbie as Dorothy "Daphne" de Selincourt and Will Tilston as Christopher Robin Milne. Photo / supplied

Goodbye Christopher Robin

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is a period drama that follows Milne (played by Domhnall Gleeson) and his wife Dorothy "Daphne" de Selincourt (Margot Robbie) as they move to the English countryside from London after WWI. There, they raise their son Christopher Robin Milne, nicknamed Billy (Will Tilston), along with the help of his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald). As Billy and his father explore the surrounding woods, the two create stories about the boy's collection of stuffed toys. These develop into the famous stories, with Billy providing the inspiration for the central character of Christopher Robin. The stories are a runaway success, turning the boy into an accidental celebrity - which starts to strain the family dynamic.

Curtis is known for directing a number of BBC dramas - including 1999's David Copperfield, which starred a 9-year-old Daniel Radcliffe - but his last two films, My Week with Marilyn and Woman in Gold, were period dramas of a similar breed to Goodbye Christopher Robin. Curtis says he's fascinated by historical scripts, particularly in what a story set in the past can tell us about our lives now. "I always ask, 'What does this say about today?'"

For Curtis, the lives of the Milnes spoke to many themes that transcend time. The film's portrayal of PTSD - which contrasts the idyllic English countryside with brutal, aggressive scenes of war - particularly resonated with audiences beyond the world of the story.
"A Vietnam vet came to see the film in New York, and said that it was the best portrayal of PTSD he's ever seen on film," says Curtis.

The real-life parallels don't stop there. In a time before celebrity culture as we know it today, Christopher Robin Milne was arguably the first-ever child star - a concept we're used to in 2017, but are still working to understand. The irony in making a film about a young Christopher Robin meant casting a 9-year-old boy - Tilston, in his first acting role - in a Hollywood film, alongside heavyweights such as Robbie and Gleeson.

Domhnall Gleeson, Will Tilston and Simon Curtis on the real-life Poohsticks bridge. Photo / supplied
Domhnall Gleeson, Will Tilston and Simon Curtis on the real-life Poohsticks bridge. Photo / supplied

"Fortunately Will's from a lovely family who are looking after him, but there is an irony there too," says Curtis. "To be fair to the Milnes, they never predicted the fame of these stories, nor that that fame would shine such a focus on their boy. It was all very new territory."

Curtis says finding Tilston was largely a stroke of luck. "We hunted far and wide in the UK. The last time I cast a 9-year-old boy in a film was Daniel Radcliffe in his first job, so that had given me some confidence."

As for the adult cast, Australian actress Margot Robbie surprises in the role of de Selincourt, for which she cleanly adopts a regal British accent. "It became clear that Margot really loved [the script]," says Curtis. "She'd been living in England, and her mother would read her the stories [as a child], so I think it had real personal resonance for her."

Director Simon Curtis with Margot Robbie on the set of Goodbye Christopher Robin. Photo / supplied
Director Simon Curtis with Margot Robbie on the set of Goodbye Christopher Robin. Photo / supplied

Curtis says the best reactions they've had are from fathers and sons who have seen the film together and have been particularly moved by it. He hopes the questions raised in the film serve as a reminder to value the relationships in our lives - particularly in our modern-day digital world.

"In this day and age I'm very grateful that when my kids were very young, I didn't have my smartphone, because you just see parents and kids buried in their phones," says Curtis.

"Pay attention to the people you love, because you never know what happens next."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Director Simon Curtis
What: Goodbye Christopher Robin
When: In cinemas next Thursday