What We Did on Our Holiday (2014) Review

This film was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Mark Carnochan.


What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
Director: Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin
Screenwriters: Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin
Starring: David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly, Ben Miller, Amelia Bullmore, Lewis Davie, Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge, Harriet Turnbull

Movie advertising can make or break a film. The film trailer plays a very distinct role in giving each of us a sample of whichever movie it’s promoting in order to aid our decisions regarding future movie outings. Whilst What We Did On Our Holiday was a financial success, it’s rather apparent that it was marketed as something completely different to what it was – the trailer promoting a cute and quirky film that promises “fun for all the family”, and the film being something truly quite different.

As the saying goes… never judge a book by its cover. 

What We Did on Our Holiday follows the McLeod family travelling up to the Scottish Highlands from London to celebrate Grandfather Gordie’s (Billy Connolly’s) seventy-fifth birthday. Although Mum and Dad, Abi (Rosamund Pike) and Doug (David Tennant), are getting divorced and won’t stop fighting, they encourage the children to lie so as to not upset their Grandfather who is ill with cancer. All the while, the McLeod family must share the house with Doug’s stingy brother Gavin (Ben Miller), his anxious wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) and their son Kenneth (Lewis Davie), who is clearly oppressed by the strict nature of his parents.

Uniquely, What We Did on Our Holiday plays out from the point of view of the children, which is an excellent choice that makes this feature particularly distinctive. Not only does it make for some truly hilarious perceptions of situations, but it also allows the film to tackle many dark subject matters with a lighthearted approach. Knowing that it’s children dealing with these problems and situations also brings an emotional weight that the film could not have achieved if simply shown through the eyes of the adults.

The McLeod family dynamic is reminiscent to that of the Brockman family from ‘Outnumbered’ (no surprise considering Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin created the show), but the chemistry between each family member, as well as each character’s individuality, gives space for the family to remain original in their own right. Vital to this are Pike and Tennant who play their roles brilliantly, each proving why they are held in such high regard within British media, but perhaps most impressive are the performances of the children Lottie (Emilia Jones), Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge) and Jess (Harriet Turnbull), some of whom were performing in their first feature film roles. Each young actor provides excellent comedic timing as well as surprisingly good character work. It is clear that Hamilton and Jenkin’s experience of working with children on ‘Outnumbered’ meant that they were able to get the best performances possible from the three children. 

Perhaps most impressive about What We Did on Our Holiday is the balance that the directors find between each of the characters and the many different stories throughout the film. There are nine central characters in total, all of whom have individually compelling stories which come to satisfying and natural conclusions. Juggling so many arcs with such gusto is an impressive feat for the directorial duo who did so while building nothing less than an enjoyable and unpredictable film overall.

The directors’ jump from television to film is largely, then, a terrific success, though it notably does come with its cons – the cinematography being the film’s biggest issue, What We Did on Our Holiday looking more like a TV show than a feature film. This makes for a noticeable diversion from cinematic norms, but one that is perhaps forgivable given the intricacies of the story told. That is, until the finale at least…

Much less forgivable is What We Did on Our Holiday’s happy ending, which up-ends the entire direction and momentum of all that has come before it, blasting a loud and out of tune horn just as the orchestra hits its crescendo, the entire film falling flat despite fantastic work earlier in the narrative. It’s a less than favourable way to depart characters that have truly embedded in your mind by this point, but one that understandably wishes to instill some hope for characters the filmmakers themselves hope that you have learned to love.

Overall, What We Did on Our Holiday is a massive surprise, one that steers far away from its shoddy marketing and smashes through audience expectations to create a fun, heartwarming film that everyone can enjoy. It’s not quite the movie smash hit the duo’s show was on TV, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless.

18/24

Written by Mark Carnochan


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