Life & Culture

Film review: To Olivia

This biopic about Roald Dahl ignores his antisemitism, says Linda Marric


Roald Dahl’s antisemitism was a secret to nobody. Last year — three decades after his death — his family issued an apology saying his views caused “lasting and understandable hurt”. In a New Statesman interview in 1983, Dahl said that there “is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity,”adding: “I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

This vital thread in Dahl’s life is never alluded to in the newly released Sky Cinema biopic which stars Hugh Bonneville as the famous children’s author. Instead, To Olivia focuses on his marriage to Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal (played adequately by TV favourite Keeley Hawes) and on the loss of their daughter Olivia to whom he dedicated his best-selling book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Writer/director John Hay presents a contrived and cliché-filled biopic which uses all the tricks in the book usually associated with these kinds of productions.

Bonneville puts in a decent enough turn as Dahl, but To Olivia is severely lacking in the storytelling stakes and often feels listless and needlessly melodramatic.

Overall, there is very little here to warrant anyone’s time and that is the film’s main downfall. Furthermore, apart from Dahl’s unsavoury views, there are some other pertinent omissions in the story which skirts around Dahl’s well-documented alleged mistreatment of his family throughout his marriage to Neal and the eventual break-up of his marriage. Too much syrup in this sweetie factory.

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