Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) take their three kids on a holiday to Scotland, to visit Doug’s father Gordy (Billy Connolly), to celebrate Gordy’s 75th birthday. During the course of the trip the kids struggle with the idea of lying to their grandfather about their parents’ impending divorce, and old tensions flare up when the kids take matters into their own hands.
What We Did On Our Holiday may have a terrible title, but it is actually a rather sweet – if totally over the top – look at the twisted nets that families weave around themselves. Davis Tennant and Rosamund Pike both do a great job of playing parents whose marriage is on the rocks, but have decided to put on a front for the sake of an elderly and unwell man’s feelings. Both manage to capture the feel of a couple who can do nothing but argue when they are together, even though they adore their kids and are truly not bad people when they are apart. Billy Connolly brings some perspective to life as the ailing Gordy, and his scenes with the kids are a delight to watch.
The three kids, played by Harriet Turnbull, Bobby Smallbridge and Emilia Jones completely steal the show; it is obvious that they were given a lot of room to ad lib their lines, but this only serves to make the film warm and sweet. The fact that one has pet rocks, one is obsessed with the Norse god Odin and one is deeply paranoid and worried about every detail of life rounds the characters out nicely.
The story, written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – the people behind the BBC show Outnumbered – is a little on the silly side, with the kids taking matters into their own hands when life takes an unexpected turn. That said, although there is more than one moment where things err on the side of the mawkish and the silly, tragedy leads to the characters finally seeing the error of their ways.
As directors, Hamilton and Jenkin allow the kids to take centre stage, with back up from Connolly, and their scenes together are a joy to behold. The rest of the cast come off weaker – Pike and Tennant the best of the lot – with the rest of the ‘grown ups’ little more than stereotypes brought to life.
What We Did On Our Holiday is a sweet if surreal and over the top film that makes stars out of the three young leads. Connolly shows a surprising level of tenderness, and Pike and Tennant do well with what they’re given. The message of the film may be over simplified and a little saccharine, there is a warm heart beating at the centre of What We Did On Our Holiday that makes up for some slightly clichéd choices.