‘To Olivia’ reviews round-up: Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes are ‘extremely watchable’

New British period drama movie To Olivia is finally out today!

The biopic film stars Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as novelist Roald Dahl, and Keeley Hawes (The Durrells) as his American actress wife Patricia Neal.

To Olivia is based on a true story and adapted from Stephen Michael Shearer’s book, An Unquiet Life.

Alongside Bonneville and Hawes, the cast also includes Sam Heughan (Outlander) as American actor Paul Newman, alongside Geoffrey Palmer (Paddington), and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones).

Watch the trailer:


The official synopsis reads: “It’s 1962 and 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.”

To Olivia is available to watch now in the UK on demand via Sky Cinema.

We’ve rounded up a selection of reviews to help you decide if you’d like to watch the movie:


“A portrait of grief that struggles to reconcile the two sides of Roald Dahl … Bonneville does his best to find some form of communion between the two. There’s a wildness in his eyes that expresses far more than what’s on the page … Hawes, meanwhile, is heartwrenching as someone who’s always expected to be a wife and mother first, a grieving woman second.” ★★★ – The Independent


“Hugh Bonneville steps effortlessly into the role of the author, portraying a slightly eccentric yet ultimately grief-stricken man on the brink of a creative jackpot. Due praise must also be awarded to Keeley Hawes whose portrayal of Patricia Neal is equally enthralling. Throughout, the duo is supported by an impressive cast, including Geoffrey Palmer as Geoffrey Fisher, the archbishop of Canterbury, in what turned out to be his last feature role.” ★★★★ – The Upcoming


“Dahl is affectionately played by Hugh Bonneville, and inevitably makes Dahl more attractive and personable than was the case … There is no real howl of pain of the kind that we had in, say in the 1993 movie, Shadowlands about the personal grief of CS Lewis. To Olivia is cushioned by its own carefully managed good taste.” ★★ – The Guardian


“As Dahl, Bonneville is mostly just very Bonneville-y – pleasantly inept in that familiar way we are supposed to forgive upper-crust men on screen.” ★★★ – iNews


“Hugh Bonneville (Dahl) and Keeley Hawes (Neal) are extremely watchable. They’re heavily hampered, however, by a whimsical script … The film also gives the impression that what didn’t kill Dahl and Neal’s marriage made it stronger. Hmm. We’re told that, pre-Charlie…, foolish adults didn’t get the “twisted” Dahl and wanted him to be more like Enid Blyton. It’s ironic, then, that [director] Hay has Blyton-ed the hell out of a story which could and should have been a dark gem.” ★★ – Evening Standard


“A well-intentioned biopic about a little-discussed but pivotal moment for both artists. If it’s never transcendent, it at least offers charming child performances, and Hawes is a particularly good fit as Neal. ” ★★★ – Empire


“A specious and sketchy portrait of the writer fails to hit the sweet spot.” ★★ – The Times


“Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes, both darlings of period dramas, carry the lethargy through. Hawes is adequate in her American accent and always wins in her performances, but she’s miscast here and given barely enough room to breathe. Bonneville is a decent Dahl, warming easily to the author’s eccentricities and avuncular attitude, but isn’t reaped for his full potential. Newcomer Isabella Jonsson, playing the middle child Tessa, is a wonderful find – delivering all the necessary curiosity, fear, and imagination for a child her age.”  – Culture Whisper


Details of the movie’s US release haven’t yet been announced.

Stephen Michael Shearer’s book Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life is available on Amazon.