These Desperate Dahls Are Too Damn Healthy: BRIAN VINER Reviews To Olivia

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To Olivia (PG)

Verdict: viewable, but flawed

Rating:

I care a lot (16+)

Verdict: Black-as-pitch comedy

Rating:

Forty years ago, a TV-made movie called The Patricia Neal Story wrote the aftermath of a series of devastating strokes of the Oscar-winning American actress in 1965, and the uncompromising way she was cared for by her husband, author Roald Dahl.

Tough love could be the modern euphemism.

Two mighty stars of the silver screen, Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde, then played Neal and Dahl.

Now, in To Olivia, it’s the turn of a pair of small-screen A-listers, Keeley Hawes and Hugh Bonneville, as the focus shifts to an earlier episode in the couple’s life, devastating in another way: death , aged seven, of their firstborn and the impact of the tragedy on their already fragile relationship.

Hugh Bonneville plays Roald Dahl and Keeley Hawes plays Patricia Neal in To Olivia

Hugh Bonneville plays Roald Dahl and Keeley Hawes plays Patricia Neal in To Olivia

John Hay’s film, based on a biography of Neal, begins in November 1961.

It takes a year for Olivia to die of measles-induced encephalitis, and with the help of a swooning score, we are thrown straight into a picture-postcard Buckinghamshire with village duck ponds and old-fashioned candy shops, where the Dahls live in dignified poverty.

Roald’s latest book, James And The Giant Peach (dedicated to Olivia), didn’t sell very well, and Patricia isn’t getting the roles she wants. There is friction between them, but faced with her beauty and its twinkling charm, it never seems to last.

Then Olivia (Darcey Ewart) falls ill and dies, sending Roald, the former fighter pilot, into a downward spiral of despair.

Olivia was his favorite, and he doesn’t mind letting her younger sister Tessa (very sweetly played by Isabella Jonsson) know. There is also a son, Theo, who suffered a brain injury after a taxi hit his pram in New York.

The marriage is starting to fall apart. The couple visits Roald’s old rector, former Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, played as a crusty old fool by the late Geoffrey Palmer in his latest film role.

The Dahls hope he can help them overcome their grief. He doesn’t do anything like that.

Then Patricia accepts a role in a Hollywood movie, Hud, and while Roald remains at home drowning in whiskey and self-pity, she takes the kids to Los Angeles.

They are housed in a beautiful house that eagle-eyed audiences will recognize as Joldwynds, the modernist Surrey mansion in which the recent Blithe Spirit remake was set. A computer-generated Pacific Ocean sparkles in the background.

While working on Hud with director Martin Ritt (Conleth Hill) and co-star Paul Newman (Sam Heughan), Neal is getting her actress-esque mojo back.

I don't give in to anyone in my admiration for Bonneville and Hawes, both so beautifully so often, and certainly not typified by their most famous roles.

I don’t give in to anyone in my admiration for Bonneville and Hawes, both so beautifully so often, and certainly not typified by their most famous roles.

Roald, meanwhile only accompanied by a vision of his own boyhood, has been working in his garden hut on a new book that he decides to name Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

He is also rediscovering his confidence and fatherly responsibilities. Success is just around the corner for both of them – an Academy Award for her, massive literary acclaim for him. There is no hint of her impending health crisis.

All this is well and good, and can never be viewed less than perfectly. But the clues as to why this movie isn’t completely truthful lie in those long ago renditions of Jackson and Bogarde.

Call it ratty, call it wasp, or choose some other word that isn’t animal related, but it came naturally to them in a way that it didn’t for the genius patriarch of Downton Abbey and the lovingly diffused matriarch of The Durrells.

Now I don’t admit to anyone in my admiration for Bonneville and Hawes, both so beautifully so often, and certainly not typified by their most famous roles.

But despite all the work that has gone into giving him a pretty high-domed forehead, and despite the looks of her movie star, they’re both a little bit wrong here.

Read about Tessa’s miserable childhood or Roald’s brutal anti-Semitism and it becomes clear that the casting, almost as good as the script and direction, softens a story that really feels like a harsh, painful scrub.

Another actress who played the English rose plays another hard-hitting American in I Care A Lot, a black-as-pitch comedy thriller that grabs the attention of the opening frame and just lets it go.

Rosamund Pike is great as Marla Grayson, an impeccably groomed legal guardian for the elderly and the sick who, behind her veneer of professional compassion, is an irreparable con man gobbling up her savings.

Rosamund Pike is great as Marla Grayson, an impeccably groomed legal guardian for the elderly and the sick

Rosamund Pike is great as Marla Grayson, an impeccably groomed legal guardian for the elderly and the sick

But when she and her co-conspirator and lover Fran (Eliza Gonzalez) turn to the well-off Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) for their scam, they badly cut themselves by opening a can of worms, yielding Peter Dinklage as a Russian mafia. boss.

It gets crazier and crazier, more and more improbable and gets a bit lost in the third act. But overall, it’s a lot of fun and a triumph for British writer-director J Blakeson.

To Olivia is available on Sky Cinema starting today; I care a lot about Amazon Prime Video.

Don’t pass on the rotten tomatoes!

In the film, Kate Hudson plays Zu, a troubled and weak woman who has to take care of her autistic half-sister.  Music played by Maddie Ziegler

In the film, Kate Hudson plays Zu, a troubled and weak woman who has to take care of her autistic half-sister. Music played by Maddie Ziegler

Imagine someone standing on stage and being pelted with rotten fruit. Just when momentum seems to slow down, a spoiled banana flies in and the whole fusillade starts again.

In a critical sense, that’s pretty much what has already happened to Sia, the Australian singer-songwriter, in the aftermath of her directorial debut Music (HHIII).

Well, I’m quite capable of letting go of a bag full of overripe plums myself, but the truth is, critical maulings can be strangely contagious and music isn’t as bad as all that.

That’s not to say I’d want to see it again, or recommend it for a fun night in, but the abuse has hit a disproportionate, almost hysterical pitch.

In the film, Kate Hudson plays the role of Zu, a restless and weak woman who, when her grandmother suddenly dies, has to take care of her autistic half-sister Music (Maddie Ziegler).

Portraying autism and casting a non-autistic (or neurotypic) actress is what has elicited the most criticism, but I admit (albeit with limited direct experience with the condition) that I am quite moved by Ziegler’s powerfully engaged performance.

From where I sat, the film’s flaws lie more in an uneven story and sudden swings in dreamy song-and-dance sequences that feel pretentious and indulgent.

Stranger also abounds in another directorial debut, Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (HHHII).

In fact, it could hardly be stranger, which is strange in itself, because the subject – the life of Canadian statesman William Lyon Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne) – seems so, well, square.

Instead, it’s a trippy extravaganza, in which different film styles are parodied and played with gender expectations, as if Monty Python had teamed up with Salvador Dali and decided together to push the boat out. It’s good eccentric fun, in parts, but the fun disappears, leaving only the eccentricity.

Music and The Twentieth Century are both available on digital platforms.