First look at Roald Dahl biopic 'To Olivia' starring Hugh Bonneville as iconic author

Tom Butler
·Senior Editor
·3 min read
Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal at the 41st Academy Awards in 1969. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal at the 41st Academy Awards in 1969. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

Sky Cinema has shared the first image from To Olivia, a new biographical film about the life of author Roald Dahl and his actor wife Patricia Neal.

The photo shows Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville as the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory writer and Keeley Hawes as the Oscar-winning The Day the Earth Stood Still star.

The first look comes as Sky Cinema confirms it will release the film in cinemas on its subscription channel in February, 2021.

Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes as Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal in To Olivia (Sky Cinema)
Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes as Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal in To Olivia (Sky Cinema)

The film’s title comes from the name of their daughter Olivia who sadly died aged seven from measles encephalitis in 1962.

The film features an all British cast including Sam Heughan (Outlander), Geoffrey Palmer (Paddington) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones), was directed by John Hay (Lost Christmas, There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble) and co-written by John Hay and David Logan.

Read more: November’s biggest Sky Cinema releases

On Twitter, Hawes called the film ‘a real labour of love’ which was completed in lockdown.

The official synopsis teases a tearjerking look at their life together: “It’s 1962 and Roald Dahl, an eccentric, burgeoning children’s author and his wife, Patricia Neal, a glamorous Hollywood movie star, have retreated to the English countryside to bring up their expanding young family.

A family photograph of the children's author Roald Dahl, with his wife Patricia Neal, and children Olivia (right) Tessa, and Theo (in pram).   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
A family photograph of the children's author Roald Dahl, with his wife Patricia Neal, and children Olivia (right) Tessa, and Theo (in pram). (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

“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.”

Dahl became a pro-vaccination advocate in the wake of Olivia’s death, writing a devastating account of her passing in a famous 1988 pamphlet Measles, A Dangerous Illnesss.

Neal, an upcoming Hollywood star at the time, met Dahl in London in 1951 while shooting The Hasty Heart with Ronald Reagan. They married in New York in 1953 and had five children together: Olivia, Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy.

Neal’s acting CV continued to go from strength to strength, alongside Dahl’s burgeoning writing career, appearing in sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still and Operation Pacific.

Hud, lobbycard, Patricia Neal, Paul Newman, 1963. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)
Hud, lobbycard, Patricia Neal, Paul Newman, 1963. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)

In 1960, their son Theo suffered brain damage after his pram was struck by a taxi in New York City. The family settled in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire while Theo underwent rehabilitation.

In 1961, Dahl published his first big children’s book James and the Giant Peach, and continued publishing hit kids books until his death.

In 1963, Neal won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Hud, in which she starred alongside Paul Newman.

In 1965, Neal suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms while pregnant and was in a coma for three weeks. Dahl helped to nurse her back to health after being paralysed by the stroke.

In 1968, Neal received another Oscar nomination for her performance in The Subject Was Roses.

Dahl and Neal divorced in 1983 after 30 years together. Neal died in 2010, while Dal died in 1990.

Watch: The trailer for the latest Roald Dahl book adaptation The Witches