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to olivia

★★★

Starring: hugh bonneville, keeley hawes, conleth hill, and sam heughan

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

Tragedy strikes novelist Roald Dahl and his wife when their young daughter dies in the 1960s. 

Roald Dahl (Hugh Bonneville), an eccentric, burgeoning children’s author and his wife, Patricia Neal (Keeley Hawes), a glamourous Hollywood movie star, have retreated to the English countryside to bring up their expanding young family. Tragically, their lives are turned upside down by the devastating death of their daughter Olivia and as the couple struggle through the unimaginable loss, their shared grief becomes a source of redemption and strength which changes their lives forever. 

 

While there are some imaginative flourishes used, To Olivia plays along well trodden biopic narrative lines telling the tale in a chronological manner. While the central drive of the story is the tragic loss of their daughter, it plays out as Dahl is finishing off his children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Neal’s struggles to find acting work eventually landing a decent role. 

 

It adds to the complexity of their grief, having to process it all while also caring for the daughter, their own relationship, and careers. The death of Olivia and the harrowing grief it inflicts on the family is never played as an emotional hook but we get to witness it in all of its rawness. In light of the current pandemic, Olivia’s story is a timely reminder of the danger of the vulnerable and the necessity of modern vaccines. However, To Olivia is missing some of Dahl’s magical flourish and warmth in the midst of their grief. 

 

Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes have terrific chemistry and are as impressive as a duo as much as they are individually. Bonneville brings a stoic vulnerability to the role while Hawes brings a steely determination in spite of the grief she faces. 

 

While lacking some of the whimsical magic of Dahl’s creations, To Olivia is a poignant and heartstring pulling tale with a stellar British cast. 

★★★