The unfathomable sorrow of losing a child is a daunting subject for any film to tackle – and it fails to do so in this decently acted yet syrupy, glib drama about movie star Patricia Neal and children’s author Roald Dahl, whose seven-year-old daughter Olivia died of encephalitis caused by measles in 1962. Despite its best efforts, To Olivia ends up making an eggshell carpet for its audience to move on.
According to the film, the disaster brought the family closer together, resulting in Neal developing new emotional intelligence for her acting and Dahl being able to embrace creative feedback on his work from his family, resulting in critical changes for his 1964 hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Maybe – or maybe Olivia’s death was an ordeal that everyone had to bear and endure, and one that hastened Dahl’s already rapid descent into cantankerous bigotry.
Dahl went on to become a successful vaccine campaigner as a result of the incident. The fact that there was no measles vaccine in 1962 is stated in the postscript. (Perhaps it is not too late to enlist Dahl’s help in combating the anti-vaxxers: any Dahl book or film should include Dahl’s vaccination message.) IMDB