Saturday, 14 March 2020

Movie Review: What We Did On Our Holiday (2014)


A family comedy and drama, What We Did On Our Holiday packs in the laughs while exploring themes of divorce, life, death and tolerance.

In London, Abi and Doug McLeod (Rosamund Pike and David Tennant) are a separated couple heading towards an ugly divorce. They have three young kids: Lottie is the eldest, tired of her parents' continuous bickering and lying. Middle child Mickey is obsessed with Viking culture. Youngest daughter Jess talks to rocks, steals keys and is an expert at holding her breath until she gets what she wants.

Abi and Doug put on a fake happy front as they pack up the kids and drive to rural Scotland to celebrate the 75th birthday of Doug's ailing dad Gordie (Billy Connolly), who is suffering from terminal cancer. Once there they connect with Doug's rich brother Gavin (Ben Miller), his frazzled wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) and their gangly son Kenneth. With Doug and Gavin constantly clashing, Gordie escapes the mounting craziness by taking his grandkids to the beach ahead of the big party being planned for his birthday.

In addition to the expected bonding between a perceptive grandfather and his grandkids, a lot happens on that beach and afterwards, but nothing that can be revealed without spoiling the film's sly sense of fun. Featuring a wry, dark and often biting sense of humour, What We Did On Our Holiday starts with a perfectly imperfect family and piles on lessons in life delivered in macabre packaging.

Written and directed by the duo of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the script takes pleasure in rubbing death against humour, the certainty of the end used to bring into focus life's precious fragility and the joy of individual peculiarities. Set against beautiful Scottish waterfront landscapes, bitter divorce, hidden depression, brotherly conflict, and the wisdom accumulated over the years are just some the serious topics woven into the film's fabric.

While the adult characters are funny, Hamilton and Jenkin excel at creating three kids with pointy individual personalities and an absolute immunity to the rules and logic of the adult world. Lottie (Emilia Jones) is knocking on the door of puberty and now uses a notebook to keep track of factoids and the lies told by adults. The observant Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge) is fully invested in Viking culture and particularly the god Odin, helping forge an unlikely connection with Grandpa.

And finally young Jess (Harriet Turnbull) has the world wrapped around her little finger, from the wisdom of rocks to the hold-my-breath trick and finally a fantastic ability to slow time down when confronted by an immediacy to recount crucial events.

With just a touch of British theatricality, the adult actors buy into the mounting level of panic as the events of the day spiral in unexpected directions. What We Did On Our Holiday works its way to an ending that is perhaps too tidy, but the journey towards patched-up family cohesion rides a boatload of fun.






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