This portrayal of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal’s emotional recovery following the death of their daughter in 1962 carries a lot of baggage. In the popular 1981 TV movie The Patricia Neal Story, with Dirk Bogarde and Glenda Jackson at the wheel, a later stage of the marriage was investigated. Dahl, who was never known for his warmth, has become a “problematic” character as a result of anti-Semitism revelations. However, John Hay’s film barely scrapes by on committed performances and a dusty rural setting. IMDB
The screenplay by Hay and David Logan, adapted from Stephen Michael Shearer’s novel, is harsh on the author. Dahl refuses to say Olivia’s name after she dies of measles and screams at his wife as she attempts to console him. Hugh Bonneville’s casting, on the other hand, sweetens and softens the character on film. We can’t imagine that Downton’s nice Lord Whatshisname believes his more toxic pronouncements. That might be a bad thing. Perhaps we shouldn’t be getting too cozy with the old outlaw.
Keeley Hawes’ portrayals of Patricia Neal, a legendary American actress, provide us with a less conflicted character. She is best able to face the pressures of dealing with loss after being knocked senseless by sudden bereavement. When the chance to appear in Martin Ritt’s Hud – for which she would later win an Oscar – presents itself, Neal tentatively accepts, although Dahl, eager to get back to work on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, seems to treat her acceptance as a kind of betrayal.