Winnie The Pooh on parenting

Domhnall Gleeson (left) and Will Tilston star in Goodbye Christopher Robin.
Domhnall Gleeson (left) and Will Tilston star in Goodbye Christopher Robin.PHOTO: FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

NEW YORK • The new movie, Goodbye Christopher Robin, tells the back story of the classic, Winnie The Pooh. It shares, through a highly personal and sometimes difficult lens, the origins and outcome of the books' original publishing in 1924.

The movie's director, Simon Curtis speaks about the parenting lessons he gained from Pooh in this edited interview.

Today's world and the challenges of being a parent are, on the surface, quite different from the post-World War I era in which the movie is set. Yet, there are many parallels between the role of A.A. Milne's (the book's author) as a father and that of the fathers of today. What struck you as most familiar?

Alan (Alexander, the A.A. in the author's name) and his wife were typical parents of their class at the time. Children were left with nannies from an early age and sent to boarding school at eight.

What was unexpected was that Alan would be alone with his child (when his wife would leave for long periods to be with her lover). And it was then, during that summer (when) the nanny left as well, he discovered how much joy his son and fatherhood gave him.

When Alan decided to publish the stories, he did so with Billy Moon (the nickname for his son Christopher Robin Milne) and Christopher Robin being separate people, but the world did not see it that way.

What struck you as the biggest reminders that there is no such thing as "perfect" in parenting?

Spend time on your children when you have the chance. You can offer so much to them and they to you. Do it before you look up and they are off to college.

I saw a family on the subway last week. They were all noses deep into their smartphones. I wished I could have said to them: "Look at one another, talk to one another - this will be over before you know it."

As a director, what did you bring from your fatherhood to the table?

From my own fatherhood to my daughters, Matilda, 24, and Grace, 19, I cannot stress enough about being present. One of the big themes of the movie is pay attention.

As the nanny says: "You never know what happens next." And this was true in my life, as it will be in yours - one day, your kids will go away.

I feel so lucky that smartphones did not exist when my children were coming of age.

Alan suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (from his time spent fighting in World War I). Billy seems to not only "get it", but also makes it his goal to help his father get past his triggers. This seems quite adult for a young boy. How does this translate into the parents of today?

Children have a sense of how they can impress and help their parents. It is essential to their survival and happiness. Billy's father suffered and, as a result, Billy never quite knew who Alan would be from moment to moment.

Little things teach the boy the best tactics to use to keep his father steady. Billy's character is emotionally intelligent and that helps. I believe children learn from their parents and parents learn from their children.

Similarly, children teach their parents to be parents and instinctively know what triggers their parents.

They find the right tactics to stay connected because a child's desire to be happy with their parents is the biggest thing.

The relationship between father and son in the movie was less than traditional in so many senses - from the way they address each other to the candid way they discuss missing their "loves" - for Alan, his wife, and for Billy, his nanny. How does this openness compare with today's oversharing culture?

Use of first names is typical of families of a certain class. It is also symptomatic of the England of that time - for boys, their nannies were their one and only love.

They did share and we do share. I am not sure if it is oversharing, but I know for Alan and Billy, it was what they were feeling and part of what connected them in the woods.


• Goodbye Christopher Robin is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Winnie The Pooh on parenting'. Print Edition | Subscribe