The Patricia Neal Story: An Act of Love (1981)

After finishing her first day of filming on John Ford’s 7 Women (1966), Patricia Neal returned home to resume her more routine daily chores. Later that night, while bathing her daughter, she was struck down by a series of strokes that left her in coma lasting three weeks. When she regained consciousness, she was paralysed on her right side, blind in one eye, and barely able to walk or talk.

 

Illustrating how difficult her recovery would be, this biopic utilises the neurosurgeon’s discussions with her husband, Roald Dahl, to clinically explain what causes a stroke and the dire future that lay ahead for survivors. Rather than resign himself to conventional treatment, Dahl put his wife through many trials of the unexpected, as friends, villagers and the RAF(!) provide constant, and at times relentless, therapy.

 

Provided with a role that is tailored to impress, Glenda Jackson doesn’t disappoint. Though she captures Neal’s distinctive husky voice before the stroke, it is the grunts and groans of frustration that best sum up the actress’ resilience. Dirk Bogarde provides solid support as Roald Dahl in an ambiguously written role. Though the tough love approach (slapping Neal’s face, insisting she pronounce words correctly) does reap rewards, it is Dahl's repeated utterances of his need for his wife to recover that make one question the author's motives.

 

Perhaps the subtitle of this biopic (which was the title for its airing on British TV) was adopted to reassure viewers that Dahl didn't just miss Neal's help with the routine daily chores.

cast, glenda jackson, patricia neal, dirk bogarde, roald dahl
Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson

as Patricia Neal

James Hayden
James Hayden

as Martin Sheen

John Dorrin
John Dorrin

as Jack Albertson

Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson

as Rock Hudson

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In a concurrent issue of TV Guide, Barry Farrell (portrayed by John Reilly) referred the Dahl’s insisting that pages and paragraphs of "drinking bouts, love affairs, follies and trespasses… all the good stuff" be edited out of the manuscript of his book 'Pat and Roald', on which this biopic is based.

 

“I think it showed Mr Dahl a little kinder and more patient than I think I remember him to be.”

Eura Neal (Patricia’s mother)

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Biopic opens with the first day of filming on 7 Women and concludes with a scene recreation from Patricia Neal’s comeback film, The Subject Was Roses.

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