Film review – What We Did On Our Holiday (Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, 2014)

If you’ve ever watched the popular British sitcom Outnumbered then you’ll become immediately outraged by What We Did On Our Holiday. The premise is exactly the same: a dysfunctional London-based family with arguing parents and three young and awkwardly inquisitive children go on a trip to visit their quirky grandfather and the annoying sibling of one of the parents. The dialogue and individual characters seem highly familiar too and it’s difficult to avoid the thought that this could have been done to much greater success with the Outnumbered cast. It’s only after a small amount of research that it becomes evident that this film is indeed written and directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the creators of Outnumbered. Admittedly, they couldn’t very well have written “By the way, we made Outnumbered and we know this is basically Outnumbered: The Movie but please stick with it.” I would have helped though.

The storyline involves father Doug (David Tennant) and his wife Abi (Rosamund Pike) travelling to see Doug’s father Gordie (Billy Connolly) in the Scottish Highlands. Their marriage is on the cusp of separation, a fact they like to assume their children don’t know. They’re visiting Scotland to celebrate Gordie’s birthday with a party co-ordinated by Doug’s brother Gavin (Ben Miller) and his wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore), who provide some laughs as a couple attempting to keep up appearances.

A laugh a minute this is not.

A laugh a minute this is not.

Despite what the poster says, this is not British comedy at its best. The reason for this is that only one of the three main cast members is a comedian and the short running time means the children aren’t provided enough space to cultivate any big laughs. The funniest moment in the whole film comes when the son Mickey tries to explain how he managed to discover his parents were getting a divorce, missing out most of the details of what was heard but lengthily revealing his technique to go to the toilet silently so he can eavesdrop. The screen time afforded to Miller and Bullmore is refreshing when it happens, though again this is limited and it feels like there was more on offer.

It’s a bold move to use this as a vehicle to tackle some pretty hefty subjects and for the most part this ambition elevates it to something bordering on a weighty drama with a humorous veneer. The impending death of elderly relatives, the lack of emotional support provided by the close family of these elderly relatives, the denial of innocence of youth due to over-exposure to mass-media, the lack of respect provided by media when the desire to get a good story transcends their own moral compass (the film was written in the immediate aftermath of the publication of the Leveson Inquiry). These are all topics that Hamilton and Jenkin clearly felt were beyond the scope of their beloved sitcom and more deserving of a feature length film. For that they should be applauded, despite an overall feeling of the film being an underwhelming disappointment.

Ultimately, a film marketed as a comedy will succeed or fail on the amount of laughs it elicits. The lack of natural comedic tendencies of both Pike and Tennant mean that the film relies too heavily on three young children playing for cute giggles and a support cast that isn’t seen enough to make up the ground. If you want to laugh a lot for 90 minutes then a better option is to just watch three episodes of Outnumbered, which is a disappointing conclusion to reach.

What We Did On Our Holidays is available on Netflix now and can also be purchased on Blu-ray or DVD.

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