Lowdown: Big family intrigue as secrets from different parts of the family are exposed.
While one should never look up to the British for good food, they do have a knack for producing little films with big impact. What We Did on Our Holiday may not be the best named film ever, but it definitely delivers on the impact department while utilising some of Britain’s best acting talent.
The movie is made of three very distinct parts, starting off in a very promising manner, then hitting a bit of a bump and, finally, gracefully saving itself. For the purpose of blooper avoidance, I will only discuss the setup and the first act.
What we have ourselves here is a large British family. The branch we start with lives in southern England (“The South”, as Brits would call it; if you’ve been to the UK you would know it is, for all intents and purposes, a different country to “The North”). This branch features a recently separated couple (David Tennant & Rosamund Pike) whose main occupation nowadays seems to be arguing with one another. Yet they agree on one thing: they will pretend to be a good couple and carry themselves and their three kids over to Scotland (way over in “The North”) so as to take part in the grandfather’s (Billy Connolly) grand birthday party. You see, that grandfather is suffering from a cancer that is likely to ensure he would not see another birthday. So as to not stain the celebration, everyone – kids included – is to pretend to be one big happy family; no one needs to know the truth.
Following a road trip that reminded me what British road trips are like (you’re reading the muses of a person that had gone in and out of intimate relationships with the rear ends of the kingdom’s entire fleet of tractors, as well as traffic cones), we get to meet the other side of the family. And that side, we soon discover, has its own issues as well as its own secrets. What follows is basically the process of unveiling those secrets and coming to terms with them, with a lot of it getting done through the perspective of the still too innocent kids. We are dealing with heavy family related themes here, including death, parental expectations as well as an assortment of other dysfunctionalities.
The beauty of What We Did on Our Holiday lies with the dysfunctionalities appearing perhaps too extreme, especially when blown up over the course of one birthday. Yet they are actually being quite typical! One does not need a large family to encounter divorces, people generating public shame, or contradicting social views that generate philosophical as well as down to earth arguments and destroy family relationships. These are everywhere in pretty much every family; what What We Did on Our Holiday does is put them in the open so as to allow us to celebrate them/us for the typical people we are and allow us to consider that we should just get on with life together with our family members. Because, other than them being the only family we have, they are quite normal.
Best scene: For reasons mentioned above, I took particular liking to the scene where Tennant & Pike are taking turns driving their way to Scotland. One of them wakes up to witness a deadlocked traffic jam and asks the driver whether they’re already at Scotland. No, comes the answer, we’re at Watford [on the outskirts of London].
Overall: This charming celebration of the modern family deserves 3.5 out of 5 crabs. Well done, Britain! Now, go work on your food.