I love a good British comedy, and while my tastes do tend to go more towards the absurd (perhaps the fact that I was exposed to Monty Python’s Flying Circus very early on shows that), I do adore a straightforward, old-fashioned family comedy, and one of the most adorable and endearing little films of recent years is the family comedy What We Did on Our Holiday, which is simple, good and clean fun, and one of the most wonderful surprises I’ve seen in recent years.
What We Did on Our Holiday is about a family that is on their way to see their grandfather in Scotland for his 75th birthday party. Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) are separated and divorce in in their midst, but they try and keep it away from their family, as not to spoil the festivities. However, their three children prevent this from happening – Lottie (Emilia Jones) has the tendency to write everything down (and I mean everything), Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge) has an obsession with Vikings, and Jess (Harriet Turnbull) speaks way too much. The family has to endure a weekend in the Scottish Highlands, and while Doug and Abi try and keep the peace and not show the cracks in their marriage to their family, the children bond with their grandfather, fun-loving but terminally ill ex-football star Gordie McLeod (Billy Connolly), who teaches his young grandchildren a lot about life and living. Of course, problems do arise, and the children have to show how they are far more mature and intelligent than the adults who are present, who rather spend their lives bickering and arguing, not aware of what is going on around them.
The one and only reason I watched this film was for the cast. I have been a fan of David Tennant since his days on Doctor Who, but truly became a devotee a few months ago when I saw his madcap portrayal of Hamlet and his masterful performance in Broadchurch. His performance as Doug is complex and interesting, and it is fascinating to see Tennant playing a character who isn’t crazy or eccentric, but rather a simple father. Tennant is a very talented actor, and he does well with the simple tone of the film. Rosamund Pike had a huge Hollywood breakthrough with Gone Girl in 2014, but she returned to her roots of humble British productions in What We Did on Our Holiday. Thankfully, she doesn’t kill anyone here (although her very angry performance as Abi leads us to believe she is permanently on the edge of doing so). Pike and Tennant are wonderful, and they have great chemistry – or rather, they play a bickering couple on the brink of divorce really well.
However, the real stars of this film are the children, who are absolutely magnetic and wonderfully adorable. I am a massive fan of Billy Connolly, and it is wonderful to see him playing such a meaningful role. He is a tremendous actor, and his performance here is absolutely heartbreaking and wonderful. Smaller performances from Ben Miller and Celia Imrie are also fantastic and add to the wonderful cast. However, I must say that the sub-plot with Miller’s son (Lewis Davie) was absolutely pointless, and we constantly thought his story was leading somewhere meaningful, but it was just an ill-constructed attempt at showing a different type of father-son relationship, but it ultimately went nowhere.
Cinema is escapism, and we often use cinema as a refuge for when life is difficult or harsh, and we need to be detached from reality, even if only for a few hours. Cinema is ultimately entertainment – but like all art forms, it also has the potential to talk about some important issues. Believe it or not, beneath its good-natured and sweet exterior, What We Did on Our Holiday is a film that talks about some vital issues that many films either don’t address, or discuss in a way that is not realistic or natural. What We Did on Our Holiday tackles some topics that I didn’t expect – the subject of death and the reaction of family is one that is portrayed extraordinarily in this film, and while the story may be cliched at times, it is remarkable at showing a natural and believable story of life and death. I will not deny it made me slightly emotional, and that’s a good thing – a film that makes you feel something is always special.
The story is wonderful, but I want to mention the technical aspects of What We Did on Our Holiday in particular – a quaint little film like this isn’t necessarily something that is quite as technically inventive as this. I don’t want to make it seem like this film is a never-before-seen technical marvel, but the cinematography behind it was truly outstanding. The beauty of the Scottish Highlands, with all the nuances, was reflected perfectly, and along with some brilliant use of music, it was a heightened experience. I didn’t expect such a visually striking film – but it was ultimately a very pleasant surprise.
I loved What We Did on Our Holiday. It may not be the pinnacle of great filmmaking, but it has a wonderful heart, and the cast is brilliant. The story is meaningful and filled with discussions about important subjects, and overall it is just a perfect family film, as it will entertain enough to keep everyone amused, but also force us to think about some things we often tend to avoid considering. Overall, it is a wonderful little film, and I urge you to seek it out.