2014 seems to have become the year that Rosamund Pike decided to portray dysfunctional marriages. But while David Fincher’s Gone Girl examined an incredibly bleak and harmful marriage What We Did On Our Holiday is much more British in its nature; quainter but not without its sense of dark humour.
Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Pike) are having marital issues. Their kids; neurotic Lottie (Emilia Jones), Viking obsessive Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge) and imaginative Jess (Harriet Turnbull) are all aware that something is not right with their home life, the fact daddy doesn’t seem to be living with them being their key clue. But for now they’ve got to put all that to one side as it’s Doug’s dad Gordy’s (Billy Connolly) seventy-fifth birthday. So the family jump on the M1 to go and stay in uncle Gavin’s (Ben Miller) house and try to put on a brave face.
A British comedy about a family going on a problematic holiday, it all sounds very Carry On doesn’t it? And yet in the hands of writer director duo Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin What We Did On Our Holiday avoids cliché to present something hones and genuinely adorable. Of course Hamilton and Jenkin are the creative minds behind BBC’s Outnumbered and like that show Holiday’s main focal point is firmly on the kids.
Because while the McLeod family are going through all manner of dramas this is the world seen through innocent eyes. And as such the highs are made all the more funny and the lows are lightened by a smartly placed comment that only a child could think to say in a crisis.
The comedy ebbs and flows like the North Atlantic sea the family spend much of their time near, often going places you would not expect it to. But what makes it work is that Lottie, Mickey and Jess remain blunt and simplistic in the observations. The adults sully things with their over-analysis and agendas, the kids meanwhile see things in a pure way.
It doesn’t always work from a directing visual point of view, often feeling very made-for-TV but in the writing and performances it’s near impossible not to be seduced by the simple brilliance in observational humour.
Tennant brings his wide-eyed gesticulating that made him such a great Dr. Who. There’s none of his more recent dour-face from Broadchurch and yet he still manage to convey an inner turmoil. Connolly is wonderfully warm and affectionate, the only one willing to see that the kids’ point of view is not only the simplest but the best. Pike, in the polar opposite to her Gone Girl role, is a typical English rose of a mum, pinked cheeked and bubbly but always looking on the edge of tearing her hair out with frustration.
All the while it’s Jones, Smalldridge and Turnball that steal the show. Their delivery is always natural, coming across, like Outnumbered, as organic and improvised rather than scripted. Turnball in particular has such a unique approach and delivery you can easily see her going into stand-up in later life.
The kind of vacation you keep the postcard from What We Did On Our Holiday is warm, funny and a refreshing break from the normal family drama.