To Olivia – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 29 minutes, Director – John Hay

When their daughter passes away Roald Dahl (Hugh Boneville) and Patricia Neal (Keeley Hawes) begin to experience rifts in their marriage and family relationships.

“You, Mr Dahl, are one big kid, and the day you stop is the day I file for divorce” the line that seals the course that Roald Dahl (Hugh Bonneville) and Patricia Neal’s (Keeley Hawes) marriage will take over the course of this film. Things might not be steady for the couple at the start. Yet, despite the lack of success of Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach and new acting roles for Neal, alongside Dahl being unable to come up with new ideas and dealing with lightly-touched upon alcoholism, the relationship is close. The family unit with their son and two daughters is close. All five are closely bonded in their worlds of imagination and make-believe. Throughout we’re shown the strong imagination that the

That is until the sudden passing of their daughter, Olivia. The death shakes the family and the marriage at the centre of the film. Dahl and Neal grieve in very different ways, The actor of them openly; although trying to quickly move on and stressing about other people, and the writer bans all mention of his daughters name, trying to move on with his emotion bottled up. Such different responses create a distance between the pair as they find themselves unable to properly empathise with each other. Although, throughout the seriousness of scenes depicting emotion and quarrels (very rarely do things develop into full blown arguments) the film as a whole is relatively calm. It feels like a quick ‘everything will be alright in the end’ British tale – at just under 90 minutes it certainly spares some details.


On many occasions the film simply cuts away from some of the more personal conversations by fading to black and moving to an entirely different moment and point in time. It feels as if a lot of time and potential detail is glossed over, detail that could strengthen the characters and create something that bit more emotionally engaging. At some points the most advancement comes from constant references to possible details to appear in his next children’s book project, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Things simply seem rushed at times, the film clearly wants to get in by 90 minutes but by doing this it appears to cut out a lot of stuff that could make for something more detailed and engaging.

While what we get is a decent enough calm, mid-afternoon TV drama there’s no escaping the feeling that there could be something more to this story about dealings with family tragedy. Bonneville and Hawes give good performances in the central roles, conveying the limited amounts of emotion and drama well. Yet, amongst the crowbarred Dahl references the feeling that there’s more to this piece and that there’s potential for more than just a decent enough middle of the road mild drama is, unlike the family initially is with their imagination, hard to escape.

Much like the project that Dahl works on throughout To Olivia feels somewhat incomplete, as if it’s missing some key details to properly drive its emotion and drama further for more effect. What we get is fine, it’s simply rather calm for the subject matter at hand.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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