To Olivia – Film Review

I have enjoyed many Roald Dahl books growing up and have distinct fond memories of reading repeatedly my favourites of his books: Matilda, The Witches and The Twits. However, I never knew about Dahl’s life and history. So, hearing that there would be a film based on Dahl and his wife dealing with a family tragedy, I was shocked at first but still intrigued to watch and understand just a little bit more about the author I dearly loved as a child.

Based on the book, ‘An Unquiet Life’ by Stephen Michael Shearer, directed by John Hay, To Olivia tells the true story of a family losing their eldest child and the aftermath of dealing with the tragedy and the turmoil of grieving. Hugh Bonneville plays the beloved children’s author, Roald Dahl with Keeley Hawes playing Dahl’s wife, American actress, Patricia Neal.

I was pleased to see Bonneville and Hawes take charge and work quite well opposite each other as grieving parents dealing with an awful situation. I have been quite the fan of Keeley Hawes and her work for some time now and was not surprised that she has once again put on a terrific performance. Not only does Hawes play a mother who is struggling with a husband who cannot express his emotions well, but also an actress who feels like she is falling behind with not getting the work she so desires since moving to the English countryside to raise a family. The chemistry between Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes is great and I feel that they were perfectly cast as Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal.

I was honestly expecting this to be a real tearjerker and was prepared with tissues just in case, however, although the film utilizes lovely shots of the morning sun glimmering through the trees, and various shots of the interior of the Dahl household, as well as the great performances by the cast, To Olivia doesn’t tug at the heartstrings like I had expected it to.

I felt that To Olivia plays it a bit too safe and doesn’t delve deeper into two parents grieving and trying to cope with the loss of a child whilst testing their relationship. It certainly was not bad in any sense of the word, but I feel it didn’t study this enough.

When Roald and Patricia has a meeting with Roald’s old head teacher, The Archbishop of Canterbury and their comments discuss their daughter being in heaven, this was the most powerful part of the film. It’s just a shame the emotional depth of this scene doesn’t continue throughout the feature.

To Olivia contains a talented cast that give it their all. Losing a child is never easy. John Hay and David Logan carefully craft a story based on truth about a couple losing a child, and portray this grief with grace. The film, however, doesn’t seize opportunity to show audiences the more painful and ugly side of torment and heartache, which is disappointing, as To Olivia had the potential to be so much more.

To Olivia is currently screening across Australia throughout November and December as part of the British Film Festival.
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