'To Olivia': Everything we know about Sky Cinema's Roald Dahl biopic starring Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes

To Olivia High Bonneville.
Hugh Bonneville plays Roald Dahl as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his daughter. (Image credit: Sky)

To Olivia follows a year in the life of Roald Dahl and his first wife, glamorous Hollywood actress Patricia Neal, and tells the story of how the writer was nearly consumed by grief after the death of his eldest child. 

A Sky original written and directed by John Hay, the film opens in 1962 with Dahl and Neal living happily in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside, with their three children, Olivia, Tessa and Theo. 

Yet tragedy strikes when Olivia dies of encephalitis after contracting measles, at the age of seven, and a devastated Dahl shuts himself off from his family. Yet as the months pass, he and Patricia manage to turn their collective grief into a shared redemption. 

To Olivia release date on Sky Cinema

To Olivia comes to Sky Cinema on Friday February 19.

To Olivia with Roald Dahl (Hugh Bonneville) looking over his daughter in hospital.

Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal lost Olivia when she was just seven years old. (Image credit: Sky)

Who stars in To Olivia?

Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville takes on the role of Roald Dahl with Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard) playing his American wife, Patricia Neal. 

Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) also stars as American director Marty Ritt, who travels all the way to Buckinghamshire to persuade Patricia to return to Hollywood to star in his new film. 

Outlander's Sam Heughan takes on the role of Paul Newman, whom Patricia starred opposite in the film, Hud, and the cast is completed by the late Geoffrey Palmer, who plays former Archbishop of Canterbury, Gregory Fisher, from whom Dahl and Neal sought counselling. Geoffrey Palmer passed away in November 2020 and this is his final screen appearance.

Is there a trailer for To Olivia? 

Yes there is, check it out below... 

Was the film made with the blessing of the Dahl estate?

The Dahl estate were consulted on the final edit, but the film is based on Patricia Neal's biography and is largely told from her perspective. 

As such it casts the famous author as a far more complex character than previously seen on screen. Viewers will see the warm-hearted and fun-loving  side to his character, but will also get a glimpse of his darker character traits, with many people who met Dahl remembering him possessing a cruel streak. 

Producer Donall McCusker revealed that the Dahl Estate made some comments, which were taken board, but they didn't have control of the film. One such objection came over a scene where they thought the author's behaviour towards his daughter Tess was too aggressive, which was amended. 

To Olivia Keeley Hawes as Dahl's wife, Hollywood actress Patricia Neal.

Keeley Hawes stars as Dahl's wife, Hollywood actress Patricia Neal.  (Image credit: Sky)

Who was Patricia Neal? 

Many people have no idea that Roald Dahl was married to a famous actress and the producers have indicated that To Olivia is actually Patricia's story, rather than her husband's, with whom she had five children. 

Neal was born in Kentucky and shot to fame with a role in World War II epic, The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and a decade later played wealthy matron Emily Eustace Failenson in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).

She also starred opposite Paul Newman in Hud (1963), winning an Oscar for her portrayal of worn-out housekeeper Alma Brown.

Yet her life was full of tragedy and drama, and she had an affair with Gary Cooper at the age of 21 while her son Theo suffered brain damage when his baby carriage was struck by a taxi cab in New York in 1960.

A heavy smoker, she also suffered a series of strokes in later life — one while she was pregnant — yet recovered from them to be nominated for another Oscar in 1968.

How did Hugh Bonneville go about achieving Dahl's look?

The prosthetics that give Hugh Bonneville the same appearance as Roald Dahl took hours to apply each day, with many fake noses used throughout filming. 

The film's make-up designer Katie Pickles brought in an artists from Bulgaria, Tatyana Sleptsova, to work with her while she developed the look they were going for. 

What was the legacy of Olivia Dahl's death? 

To Olivia was written before the Coronavirus pandemic, but one of the film's messages has become very topical in the wake of the wake of the current crisis. 

Olivia died from encephalitis after contracting measles in 1962, a time when no measles vaccination was available. 

In the years to come he became a great advocate of vaccinating children against the disease and in 1988 he wrote a pamphlet entitled Measles: A Dangerous Illness in a bid to persuade parents to vaccinate their kids. 

Dahl couldn't understand why people "out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear" wouldn't protect their children in this way. 

Sean Marland

Sean is a Senior Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week, who also writes for whattowatch.com. He's been covering the world of TV for over 15 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are I'm Alan Partridge, The Wire, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.