Dirs/scr: Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin. UK. 2014. 95mins
A beautifully written comedy-drama (but then Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin are masters of dialogue) that contains a central plot twist that throws the film on its head, What We Did On Our Holiday is a film that impresses and engages in large sections but in the end – perhaps because of its large cast all vying for screen attention and the twist involved – can’t quite sustain the balancing act between comedy and drama. There are, however, certainly comedy moments to cherish and it succeeds at being ultimately uplifting.
The challenge for What We Did On Our Holiday is to take a far more dramatic incident set against a wider visual and emotional landscape and make find that delicate balance between humour and a tragic twist.
Hamilton and Jenkin are well known in the UK as top comedy writers, with their recent television series Outnumbered lasting five seasons. It was a unique concept – a family sit-com about two parents and their three young children, the adult actors’ lines were scripted but the children improvised based on conversations and notes, leading to hilariously natural performances and reactions – and to a large extent What We Did On Our Holiday is in part a theatrical extension of the work done in Outnumbered.
A strong adult cast of well-known performers – including comedian Billy Connolly, Gone Girl star Rosamund Pike and the ever-excellent David Tennant – will help profile (especially in the UK), though the challenge for overseas markets will be managing the film’s shift from comedy to drama, and dealing with the notion of how exactly to define the film.
This time round the talented improv-orientated child-actors are Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull who play the three McLeod children who head off on a trip to the Scottish Highlands with their bickering parents Doug (Tennant) and Abi (Pike), who are intent on keeping their impending divorce a secret from their extended family. They are heading to Doug’s father Gordie’s (Connolly) birthday party, but want to appear the perfect family.
Nine year-old Lottie (Jones) keeps as notebook of her parents’ lies so she remembers which ones to tell; four year-old Jess (Turnbull) has an attachment to a brick named Norman, while middle child Mickey (Smalldridge) shares his grandfather’s shared passion for Vikings. While the adults bicker and argue the children head off with their grandfather for a day at the beach, which leads tragedy, with the youngsters eventually taking matters into their own hands.
The hilarity of Outnumbered was the children’s ability to shine a comedy light on the ordinary things in family life, largely within a single house. The challenge for What We Did On Our Holiday is to take a far more dramatic incident set against a wider visual and emotional landscape and make find that delicate balance between humour and a tragic twist.
The humour works well in the first part of the film as the kids try and get round their parents’ bickering, but things get too emotionally complex as the film gets to its central dramatic incident, and from that point just finds its hard to work out what type of film it is. There are still some lovely comedy moments, it is just that there is a sense that it struggles to find the right tone.
David Tennant and Rosamund Pike are great as the warring parents, while Billy Connolly and Celia Imrie (two top comedy performers) are excellent, but the film very much belongs to the three children Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull, who handle complex roles with aplomb, often also helping bring out the best in adults around them as they have to respond to the youngsters improv skills.
Production companies: BBC Films, Lipsync Productions, Origin Pictures
International sales: Independent, www.independentfilmcompany.com
Producers: David Thompson, Dan Winch
Cinematography: Martin Hawkins
Editors: Steve Tempia, Mark Williams
Production designer: Pat Campbell
Music: Alex Heffes
Main cast: David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Ben Miller, Amelia Bullmore, Billy Connolly, Celia Imrie, Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge, Harriet Turnbull