After the huge success of their BBC sitcom Outnumbered, it was pretty much inevitable that writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin would make the leap to the big-screen. Whether it’s down to not wanting to put the final stamp on Outnumbered by making a strict adaptation or that those kids are simply too old for the type of comedy they wanted to repeat, the result is not just merely “Outnumbered Goes Abroad.” Instead we get a new set of characters – and a whole load of fresh family dysfunction – in What We Did on Our Holiday.
The plot follows Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike), two parents who decide to drive up to the Scottish Highlands for a short holiday with their three young children, Lottie (Emilia Jones), Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) and Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), to celebrate the birthday of Grandpa Gordie (Billy Connolly). Despite a plan to hide the parents’ living apart from one another, that secret and others begin to unravel, setting off a series of disastrous events as everyone prepares for the big birthday celebration.
This is the type of good-natured, ultimately harmless comedy that Brits do best. With a mix of well-observed family dysfunction comedy and well-rounded characters for which we actually care, this is a good example of how you take a small-screen formula and mould it for the big-screen. Yes, it may ultimately be more televisual than cinematic and it will probably work best in the comfort of your own home but it doesn’t suffer from the “just making a movie for the sake of it” syndrome as a lot of these types of movies do.
It works largely thanks to the cast. Pike and Tennant are great as the two parents, convincingly portraying a couple on the outs in their relationship but doing their best to muddle through for the sake of their kids and, quite simply, to not cause anymore aggravation in their already chaotic family, close and extended all included. Connolly is, well, he’s Connolly and no one can really compare to him. He’s clearly having a lot of fun with the role, throwing in the occasional swear word that somehow sounds harmless coming out of his mouth.
But when it comes down to it, it’s the kids that steal the show. In true ‘Outnumbered’ style, the comedy comes from an honest and charmingly naive place, with particularly the youngest of the three – Margaret – asking the sort of simplistic but nonetheless inquisitive questions that the adults struggle to answer. It was done in the same semi-improvisational style as that TV show, where the kids don’t have exact scripted lines but situations to which they purely react. This gives the often awkward comedy situations a certain sense of freshness and unpredictability.
At the half way mark the film takes a surprisingly dark turn that will at the very least surprise but in all likelihood shock most viewers. And I’m not sure the film entirely reconciles the rather morbid idea that it throws up (I won’t spoil here what specifically happens) as it’s a little too darkly out of place for what the rest of the film is and should be. However, it’s not something that happens entirely without a reason as it informs the proceeding plot and eventually brings it back around to the sweet tone it conjured in the first place.
Most of all What We Did on Our Holiday portrays that sense of family dysfunction pretty much down to a tee. It gets those little close-to the-bone details of family feuding, sibling rivalry and plans turning into chaos that we all know so well. For example, anyone who’s ever been on a lengthy car journey will completely relate to what’s going on, either as the child in the back seat asking the eternal question, “are we there yet?!” or the parent in the front trying their best to handle traffic, keep everyone calm and even just stay awake while driving up the motorway for hours on end. It’s a charming slice of British comedy that will contain many-a-moment recognisable to anyone who’s ever been on a holiday with their family.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.