Roald Dahl film criticised by David Baddiel

The Campaign Against Antisemitism also expressed concern about the film


British writer Roald Dahl (1916 - 1990), 11th December 1971. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

David Baddiel has criticised an upcoming film about Roald Dahl, saying it would be “difficult to watch” because of the late author’s well-documented antisemitism.

To Olivia, a biopic starring Hugh Bonneville as the celebrated writer and Keeley Hawes as his wife Patricia Neal, is released on Sky Cinema Friday.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Baddiel said: “Anyone who effectively blames the Jews for the Holocaust is not a casual Jew-hater, even if his remarks might have felt casual to him.

“I absolutely do not think this means his books should be taken off the shelves, but nor do I think there should not be films made about him.”

He added: “There should be a congruent awareness of that fact about his personality, just as there would be if he’d said repeatedly awful things about another minority.”

Mr Baddiel said: “It makes it quite difficult to watch biopics which paint him in person simply as what our collective cultural desire wants him to be, a heartwarming figure.”

The Sky Cinema production focuses on Mr Dahl’s marriage to actress Neal as they mourn the loss of their daughter, Olivia, who died from measles aged seven in 1962.

The film, directed by John Hay, is adapted from Stephen Shearer’s 2006 book Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life. It does not explore Mr Dahl’s antisemitic views.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism joined Mr Baddiel in expressing concern about the film.

A spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that while addressing some of the author’s flaws, it whitewashes his antisemitism.

“For biopics to be realistic, they should portray the totality of the subject, including negative traits, without which they cannot properly educate an audience.”

To Olivia is Sky’s latest film about Mr Dahl’s life, following the 2020 drama Beatrix and Roald about the writer’s childhood encounter with Beatrix Potter.

Titles such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have enjoyed broad appeal, but Mr Dahl’s more controversial comments have sparked debate in recent years.

Mr Dahl, who died over 30 years ago, notoriously told the New Statesman in 1983 that there “is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity”.

He said: “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.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the rights to the author’s stories, said: “To Olivia was neither produced nor endorsed by the Roald Dahl Story Company or the Dahl family. We do however understand that it focuses on the period around the death of Roald’s daughter Olivia in 1962, which took place decades prior to the antisemitic comments made by him. The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company have acknowledged these comments were antisemitic and have apologised unreservedly for the hurt and suffering caused.”

A Sky spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate antisemitism or racism of any kind. To Olivia is not a Roald Dahl biopic but is a snapshot of a chapter in his and Patricia Neal’s lives following a traumatic event, the death of their daughter.”

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