There's an old sketch from The Kenny Everett Show which features Billy Connolly, one of the stars of What We Did On Our Holiday. In it, cuddly Ken tempts Billy in a sex shop with a very special film featuring nuns and nazis. Hooked, Billy buys it thinking it's seriously hot stuff but it is, of course, The Sound of Music! I'm reminded of the sketch because I'm sure there are some particularly perverted punters out there who would get a manic gleam in their eye at the thought of a film featuring Rosamund Pike urinating and would equally be disappointed to find it couched within such a gentle, warm hearted family film instead.
Written and directed by the well established sitcom duo Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton of Outnumbered fame, What We Did On Our Holiday shares many similarities with their recent BBC success - it's a big hearted and sweet natured, warm and funny film featuring a trio of cute kids and their hassled, beleaguered parents, played here by the aforementioned Pike and David Tennant. In transferring the tried and tested format to the big screen, the writing duo have naturally opened out their ambitions to produce a bigger and somewhat unexpected narrative that is quite a leap away from the domestic setting of the TV sitcom.
Tennant and Pike star as Doug and Abi, a couple in the middle of a marital crisis when they take their three boisterous children up to Scotland to celebrate the 75th birthday of Doug’s cancer stricken, young at heart father Gordy (Connolly). Knowing that their time there will see them in close quarters with Doug's social climbing, uptight brother (Ben Miller) and Margaret, his neurotic wife (the always brilliant Amelia Bullmore) Doug and Abi give their kids strict orders to lie about their domestic set-up and pretend all is well at home. As they maintain the secrets and lies and old wounds are opened, Gordy - a man who treats the harsh realities of life with the contempt they deserve and appreciates the absurd - seeks sanctuary with his three grandchildren who, given their innocence, natural honesty and silliness, he feels a close affinity to. He takes them out for a day on the beach which will ultimately take an unexpected and farcical turn.
Jenkin and Hamilton's script is, as perhaps should be expected, smart and very funny, but it's also genuinely touching in a way which neatly sidesteps the schmaltz that would scupper many a sentimental Hollywood movie. The three children are a naturalistic, mirthful joy but special praise must go to Emilia Jones as the eldest Lottie who, given that she is caught between the total innocence of her younger siblings and the small glimpses of the real adult world, is both amusing and affecting. The message of the film, to allow kids to be kids and to sustain an element of their attitude in your own mature years because life on the whole can deal you a pretty shitty hand, is one I can certainly get behind. The fallout in the final third may be less satisfactory than the more family orientated scenes of before, but this is still an impressive and deeply likeable 90 minutes.