On the Silver Screen – What We Did on Our Holiday

Sep 23, 2014 | Posted by in Movies

Outnumbered writer/director duo Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin write and direct the comedy What We Did on Our Holiday where a family on the verge of breaking apart travel to Scotland to attend a 75th birthday party.

Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) are a husband and wife going through a divorce caused by various complex factors. The decide to pretend all is well for the benefit of Doug’s ailing father Gordy (Billy Connolly) on his 75th birthday so they try to get along and head for the Scottish Highlands with their 3 children Lottie (Emilia Jones), Jenni (Harriet Turnbull) and Mickey (Bobby Smallridge). The children have more trouble keeping the fiction alive than their parents do which creates its own problems around the family.

Comedies are always hard to review because they rise and fall based on the subjective nature of how funny the reviewer finds the film. I personally found this film to be hilarious with some really clever jokes and situations that need to be seen to be believed. Much of the humour comes from “kids say the darnedest things” which works really well. None of the children have any sort of a filter over what they choose to mention which causes adults to become irritated with the constant stream of chatter, not to mention their parents having information revealed that they would rather be kept secret for now.

What We Did on Our HolidayThe three children are excellently cast, I can only speculate as to how much of their dialogue is improvised as I’m told happens on Outnumbered but given how natural it all seems then I’m guessing a lot of it is. They all have such interesting ways of phrasing things and their limited understanding of adult life makes for some hilarious out loud assumptions as well as out of context repetition of what has been said by parents. There’s also plenty of information overshare that never fails to amuse.

David Tennant and Rosumund Pike are great in their roles, effectively playing strung out parents who are struggling to juggle handling their divorce while raising their children in the best way they can without combining their resources. Their kids are a complete handful as well which makes this all the more frantic for them and both actors do a great job of portraying two people at the end of the limits of their patience with each other and their situation which creates some very funny moments. Their arguments are just hilarious to watch, clearly portraying a relationship that has been falling apart for quite some time.

Billy Connolly is also fantastic in this film; playing a man who has made peace with the fact that he’s at the end of his life and losing his battle with cancer so has decided just to enjoy what time he has left and go out with dignity. He clearly adores his three grandchildren and spends a lot of time encouraging their curiosity and humouring their energetic attitude. The relationship feels natural and Connolly is clearly at home playing this sort of role, dialing down his trademark bad language for something more sedate. His comic timing is superb as expected and he has a blast with the role.

Doug’s brother Gavin (Ben Miller), his wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) and their son Kenneth (Lewis Davie) are another dysfunctional family in the film with a level of dysfunction that is hilariously over the top. There’s a particularly hilarious scene involving Margaret and a past indiscretion that not even her husband knows about. To say more about it would spoil the joke but it is very funny. Gavin is entirely disconnected with his own son as well as his brother’s children which produces some great results.

I really liked that the film tells the story through the eyes of the children and shows how petty and self absorbed all of the arguments and conflict really is. Through their innocent perspective we gain an understanding of the simplicity of these issues and how easily they can be solved. Sometimes a young voice yelling at adults to stop arguing is enough to make them stop and examine the effect the hostility has on those around them, particularly their children. Using the kids in this way really helps the film to tackle some serious issues beyond the silly aspects; a lot is said about what is important in life, how people behave and what makes people do the things they do. Somehow simplifying this so that a child can understand it makes the complexity of these relationships really shine through. There are many touching moments in the film helped by the eclectic cast playing their parts so well giving the characters so much implied depth that it’s easy to identify with them and how they interact with one another.

Thematically the film explores how life isn’t perfect but we have to do the best we can. Doug and his family are portrayed very realistically in that they have beautiful happy moments as well as sad and stressful ones. It all helps to enrich the story and the characters in really wonderful ways as well as point out how ridiculous life can be sometimes. It sends a clear message over what is really important and what should be celebrated. It is suggested that every family is in some way dysfunctional and really, who can disagree?

At times some of the situations seem a little overly ridiculous which is absolutely what they seemed to be shooting for but I would occasionally find a joke stretched far beyond the point it was funny. This happens fairly sporadically but there are moments where I wished the scene had moved on a little quicker.

  • 8/10
    What We Did on Our Holiday - 8/10


A genuinely hilarious and moving film that nicely explores the problems families have as well as the things worth celebrating. The story is told through the eyes of 3 young children allowing the audience to see things from their perspective. Some of the jokes are overdone to the point where they stop being funny but that’s a very small criticism in an otherwise hilarious film. It’s a very good comedy that uses a talented cast very well.