There was no way really that I was not going to enjoy this film. Set in Scotland (including beach scenes from Gairloch) and starring both Billy Connolly and David Tennant, it would have to be pretty dire for me not to have liked it. Thankfully it is not dreadful and, even if you are not a fan of all things Caledonian, I’m sure you will find plenty to make you smile in this gentle film.
Abi (Rosamund Pike) and her husband, Doug (David Tennant), are living separately and negotiating their divorce via lawyers, after Doug was unfaithful. Their three children are aware of their Dad’s infidelity but when the whole family travels North to stay with Doug’s father, everyone is sworn to secrecy about the situation. Gordie (Billy Connolly) is approaching his 75th birthday but has terminal cancer; as this birthday celebration will probably be his last, Doug doesn’t want it to be marred by the news of his son’s marital problems. The family manages to keep up the pretence for a while once they arrive in Scotland, but the children are not great liars and before long they have inadvertently let slip the whole story. As the preparations for the birthday party gather pace, managed with military precision by Doug’s brother, Gavin (Ben Miller), Gordie escapes to the beach with the children. Chilling with his grand-kids, Gordie is clearly relaxed and happy. But when he is taken ill, Lottie, Mickey and Jess take some decisions which show they are more in tune with Grandad than the grown-ups are.
Directed by the makers of the TV series ‘Outnumbered’, many of the film scenes involving the children are improvised rather than closely scripted. This results in some hilarious comedy as the young actors ignore social conventions and say what they think. Equally telling are the adults’ reactions to the dialogue and I rather got the feeling that in several of the scenes, they have forgotten that they are acting and react spontaneously to the children. I’ve never met Billy Connolly so I don’t actually know what he is like, but during ‘What We Did On Our Holiday‘ my guess is that he wasn’t doing much acting at all; he was getting paid to be himself! His delight in the children, and the affable way in which he ridicules the vanities and pretences of his family greatly contribute to the charm of this film.
There is a message at the core of the movie, about being true to yourself and making the most of the opportunities that life presents. Nothing ground-breaking, and the audience is rolled along in the genial sway of the story without a sense of being preached at.
In undertaking the 50/50 challenge this year, I have found it difficult to find films that seeped into my pores the way that some books have. But ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’ is one of the rare ones that has and I know I will be returning to it time and time again.
(Film available on Netflix.)