26 September 2023

To Olivia

Start the conversation

Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: John Hay, Icon Film Distribution.

It’s been more than 30 years since the death of celebrated British novelist Roald Dahl, but his creative legacy does more than just live on. It flourishes encouragingly. This true story of Dahl (Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey, Notting Hill), and his wife, Patricia Neal (Keeley Hawes, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks) is about love and loss. It strikes a chord – with relevance – about the importance of a family coming together when in other circumstances they could have fallen apart.

It’s 1962 and Dahl, an eccentric, burgeoning children’s author and Neal, a glamourous Hollywood movie star, have retreated to the English countryside to bring up their expanding young family. When tragedy strikes with the death of their daughter Olivia (from measles), they are devastated as their lives are turned upside down. As the couple struggle through the unimaginable loss, their shared grief becomes a source of redemption and strength which changes their lives forever.

To Olivia chronicles Dahl’s struggles while writing some of his most famous works and Neal’s return to acting and winning an Oscar. It focuses on the period in which Neal was making Hud and Dahl was writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

On an affirmative note: this is not a film about death, but a film about life and how the power of the imagination and creativity can be a guide through the darkest of times.

As director Hay says: To Olivia tracks the tears of a family going through the five stages of grief in different ways. It’s a ‘true story’ but not in any way a biopic.

“I wanted to portray Roald Dahl as an adult with the sensibilities of a child; garrulous argumentative; private and elusive. On the surface aloof but underneath his gruff exterior was a man with great kindness. In fact, one of his famous quotes was: ‘I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’d put it before courage, bravery or generosity or anything else’.”

Bonneville does justice to his portrayal with directness and consideration, while Hawes performs the part with genuineness and enthusiasm.

  • To Olivia opens in cinemas on 19 May

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.