If you are not saturated with the BBC comedy series, Outnumbered, What we did on our Holiday is a re-cast, feature-length version of the series, also written and directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin.
What we did on our Holiday differs from the series in that it seems to be aimed at separated parents of precocious, adorable children, rather than happily married couples. Although much of the film is predictable, lightweight and a bit too cute for its own good, there are some genuine laughs, lovely scenery and solid performances from David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Amelia Bullmore and Billy Connolly (age 71) as the obligatory granddad whose time has come.
Divorcing couple Doug (Tennant) and Abi (Pike) McLeod attempt to stop arguing long enough to celebrate Doug’s father Gordy’s (Connolly) 75th birthday with their three children. Although Gordy is physically unwell, he is treated like he is missing his marbles. But he must have done something right as he lives in a stately home in the Scottish Highlands near a beautiful, empty beach. Doug’s social-climbing, ingratiating and defensive brother Gavin (Ben Miller) is organising the birthday bash under which introduces jokes and gags involving sibling rivalry.
Fed up with all the feuding during the preparations, Gordy drives off to the beach with his three grandchildren. The joke is that while his children are spending a fortune on a party for his friends, Gordy’s prefers to hang out on the beach with his grandchildren. There is a lot of talk about Gordy’s meds, but there always is when characters are over 60. Here, the issue of medication raises the tension in a film that sacrifices tension for charm, gags and an intermittently sharp script.
What transpires at the beach will not be much of a surprise to those who know the chief function, or duty, of most characters over 70, but there are a few unexpected turns. And the old man’s sacrifice is not in vain, as it brings about a sudden family reconciliation and cartwheels in the sand.
There is an interesting and less predictable theme running through the film: that of liberation. In addition to the children’s liberation from a boring holiday with bickering adults, there is Gordy’s liberation from the norms of a society, and an illness, that constrain him. Gordy and his grandson are obsessed with Odin, the old Norse god whose name means ‘fury excitation’, an apt description of Connolly. In addition, there is the liberation of secondary-character, Margaret McLeod (Amelia Bullmore), Gavin’s long-suffering wife. She is the withdrawn, invisible middle-aged woman whom everyone takes for granted, despite her obvious depression.
Tennant and Pike not only provide some uncanny chemistry and comic timing, but are such delightful squabbling partners that the first twenty minutes of the film are easily the best. This includes the painful exodus from London (‘Is this Scotland, daddy?’/ ‘No it’s Watford’) that any family will recognise.
With Tennant and Pike in the background, and then Connolly out of the picture, it is left to the children to steal some scenes. We extend them good will but it’s hard to imagine young children capable of building a floating barge with no tools, implements or manual. It is difficult, too, to square Gordy’s personality and age with the enormous number of chairs set up for his party. How many friends does anyone have, let alone a reclusive, anti-social 75-year-old who lives in the middle of nowhere?
Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer