Directed by Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin
Starring Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Billy Connolly, Ben Miller, Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge, Harriet Turnbul
Jess (Harriet) and her harried mother Abi (Pike) have an interesting conversation as they are setting off on their Scotland trip. Having tried unsuccessfully to buckle the fidgety 4-year-old into her seatbelt, Abi decides to try the nice way. Picking up a brick that Jess has been lugging around calling it her pet ‘Norman’, Abi tells Jess, “Lets ask whether Norman wants to wear a seatbelt.” As her elder brother goes on an on about the prospect of horrible deaths, Jess tells her mother smiling, “How would Norman know? It’s just a brick, with no hands or legs.”
Jess knows, Abi knows, they both know the other knows and the audience knows how this begins and how this ends. Writer-directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin know it well too. What We Did On Our Holiday is an extension of their TV series Outnumbered about a couple and their own set of three children.
However, somewhere along the way, the all-too-familiar story among all-too-familiar characters loses sight of what children can do and what they probably won’t. That’s a damage the film never recovers from, as its grasp of children is the best thing going for Hamilton and Jenkin.
Abi and Doug (Tennant) are in the middle of divorce proceedings, a fact they have kept hidden from Doug’s ailing father Gordie (Connolly). On way to Scotland for Gordie’s 75th birthday, Abi and Doug tell their three children, including eldest Lottie (Emilia), Mickey (Bobby) and youngest Jess, not to let others in on the family trouble.
That leads to a volley of questions on the things they can say or not, and the truth not surprisingly tumbles out soon enough when they are all in Scotland.
Gordie himself lives in this grand house not too far from a lake where he spends hours placidly sitting on the beach or frantically fishing in water. Played by Connolly, Gordie is a caricatutre of rebellious crochety old grandfathers, with his long, pinned hair, his ramshackle mini-truck, and the cancer pain he endures in secret. Doug’s brother and sister-in-law are more caricatures, rich, uptight and righteous, raising a “proper” son who is quite the contrast to Doug’s own three.
Of the trio, Lottie is the serious one in tight braids and glasses who notes down every thing told to her in a notebook, especially jotting down the “lies” her parents expect of her.
The writer-director duo try to bring in some measure of surprise in what unsurprisingly follows when a grandfather young at heart and London children set free upon a Scottish countryside meet. However, soon that surprise has gone from being cute to incredulousness, and the film loses track, bringing in too many elements, from media to Vikings. Some of that interesting stuff comes beeped out for us the lily-livered in India.
Pike did this film before big-time success in the form of Gone Girl, which explains her presence here.
Or, there could be another reason. Gordie has an insightful advice for Lottie on her notebook: “Life doesn’t always look very good when written down,” he tells her. A script almost always does.