Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin

Stars: David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Ben Miller, Billy Connolly, Amelia Bullmore, Celia Imrie, Emily Jones, Bobby Smalldridge, Harriet Turnbull, Annette Crosbie.

The rather bland title of the delightful British comedy/drama sounds like the type of essay we used to write on the first day back at school after the summer break. But it is far more inventive and quirky that probably anything we wrote back then.

What We Did On Our Holiday is another film about a dysfunctional family gathering that eventually proves cathartic for all. It deals with themes of family, tradition, love, loss, death and grief, secrets and lies, and the innocence of childhood. And although a quick synopsis of the plot may make it seem like familiar material, first time feature film directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (best known for their work on the BBC series Outnumbered, etc) push this bittersweet film in unexpected directions.

The McLeod family are gathering in the Scottish highlands to celebrate the 75th birthday of ailing family patriarch Gordie (Billy Connolly). Doug (former Doctor Who David Tennant) and Abi (the very busy Rosamund Pike) are in the middle of a divorce, but they warn their three inquisitive and precocious children to keep this a secret from the rest of the family as they do not want the news to cast a pall on the celebrations.

Doug’s brother Gavin (Ben Miller, from Death In Paradise, etc) is a rich and pretentious financial trader whose house is energy saving, and lights turn on and off at the sound of a clap. And the house is wired with CCTV and high tech gadgets, much to the chagrin of his long suffering and highly strung wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore), who is still recovering from a recent breakdown. He is just crying out to be taken down a peg or two!

Tensions are already high between the brothers and their families given their vastly different circumstances and outlook on life. But then something happens that casts a rather different mood over the celebrations, throws the family into the spotlight of some unwelcome media attention, and also brings the three children to the attention of social services. This development takes the film into some darker and more uncomfortable territory, although the writers still mine the material for some biting humour and pathos.

What We Did On Our Holiday is essentially a loose extension of Hamilton and Jenkin’s television series, albeit with a new cast and a more ambitious storyline. Hamilton and Jenkin display a light touch throughout, although they do allow the material to become a little too sentimental by the end. What We Did On Our Holiday is a film aimed at family audiences, and there is some great physical comedy to amuse younger audiences. However, some of the humour is also quite subtle and sophisticated.

The film really belongs to the three kids though. Emily Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull are great and have considerable charm and an easygoing presence as the three children whose actions have a big impact on the family gathering and family unity. Much of their dialogue seems improvised and unscripted, giving their material an unforced quality and an honesty rare in films. They also get some of the best moments, and those scenes they share with Connolly have a natural and unforced quality to them. Connolly himself is also great as the irascible grandfather more concerned with spending time with the grandkids than at his own lavish party, and he brings an impsih charm and warmth to his performance. He obviously also draws on his own recent health problems to inform his performance.

Tennant captures the high strung nature of Doug, who worries for the future of his children and the impact that the divorce will have. Pike continues to show her versatility, and she displays a nice flair for light comedy in a role that is a far cry from her recent performance as the manipulative Amy Dunne in the dark thriller Gone Girl. They develop a nice rapport though as the bitter and bickering couple.

The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Martin Hawkins (who worked with the pair on Outnumbered), and he captures some beautiful vistas of the Scottish highlands and beaches. And a Celtic-influenced score adds to the film’s pleasures.

For a film whose title didn’t promise much, What We Did On Our Holiday actually delivers some great laughs and emotional moments and is worth catching up with.



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