British author Roald Dahl, famed for his inventive and magical fantasies, was married for 30 years to Hollywood film star Patricia Neal.
In 1962, at a time when the careers of both of them were in the doldrums, their seven-year-old daughter Olivia died suddenly of measles-induced encephalitis.
The parents were devastated, so grief-stricken that they could hardly bear to talk to each other.
To Olivia focuses on this critical period, when the marriage was almost at breaking point and Neal chose to fly off to Hollywood to try for a part in a new film.
Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame is excellent as the inconsolable Dahl and Keeley Hawes does a fine job as Patricia Neal.
This is a moving film about parents mourning the loss of a child, but there are some surprisingly funny moments.
The film starts with a party scene where a dull acquaintance has button-holed Dahl when suddenly he brightens at the sight of the beautiful Neal .
“That’s Patricia Neal, the Hollywood star,” he gasps.
Dahl strings him along, then bets him ten shillings that he and Neal would leave the party together – which of course they did, much to the bore’s amazement.
Later the late great Geoffrey Palmers has a wonderful final role as a supremely pompous Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom the grieving couple have gone for comfort.
No, Olivia would not be able to play with her beloved pets in heaven, he intones. “Animals have their own afterlife.”
Screenwriters John Hay(who also directed) and David Logan have created a gentle film which throws a light on a little-known period of Dahl’s life.
Astonishingly, this tragic time ended with career successes which were the high points of both their professional lives.
Neal won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the hard-bitten housekeeper in Paul Newman’s 1963 film Hud; and Dahl finished Charlie And The Chocolate Factory which has sold more than 13 million copies world-wide and has spawned two major films.
Most of To Olivia is set in in the beautiful English county of Buckinghamshire, where Dahl’s cottage still stands, with the little studio outside where he used to write.
To Olivia is now showing at Luna Leederville and the Windsor.
Watch the trailer…