Set in 1962, we follow the famous writer and author Roald Dahl (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife, Patricia Neal (Kelley Hawes). While already dealing with multiple complications, Roald and Patricia suffer a tragic loss in their family, putting everything they have (including their marriage) at risk. At this point in Roald Dahl’s life, things are quite sad and tragic. Firstly, Roald’s most recent book title, James and The Giant Peach, was deemed a failure as sales didn’t reach his desired numbers. As for Patricia, she is struggling to find work in the latest films as an actress and is continually knocked back at auditions.
To Olivia is best described as a biography and a heavy drama. This film takes a bold step and reveals a story that many people would be unaware of (including myself). It’s a drama film that’s also quite sad and heartfelt as this couple now has to choose if they will work together and move forward or let a tragedy destroy their lives.
I found moments of this plot quite tragic. Despite the tragedy, moments are highly interesting as it’s a journey about Roald Dahl. While the film begins with an outline that had my engagement, I found it slow-paced and unsure of its direction. Certain scenes overstayed their welcome or seemed to have no major reason for being there. The film also focuses on one plot detail for far too long. After watching for over thirty minutes, I began to question the point of this film as the direction of the story was vague.
Performances here are generally great, and you get a real sense that Hugh Bonneville, as Roald, is giving everything to show the true side of the famous writer when he is at his worst. However, while performances are pleasing, aspects of the character are also highly distracting, such as the makeup and prosthetics used to make the actor look like Roald Dahl. In various scenes and key moments, the actor almost looks fake to the point his performance and work begins to lose strength. The musical score is powerful and touching, and even if it’s somewhat repetitive, it certainly helped bring heartfelt moments to life.
Overall, there’s a fascinating and heavy dramatic story on display here about the famous writer Roald Dahl, and it’s a story I wasn’t aware of. Performances are generally great, along with the touching and powerful musical score. While the story is gripping and sad, to my surprise, the results didn’t resonate or stay firmly with me (even though they really should have). There are moments that seem to overstay welcome, and some themes stay longer than preferred rather than moving forward. Moments of tension are also not as powerful as they could be due to certain actors being fitted with strange makeup and prosthetics. Based on the story alone, I wish this film stuck with me more closely than the results I experienced, which were forgettable.