What We Did on Our Holiday, a quaint little British comedy-drama, attempts to navigate the troubles of adulthood and marriage, through children affected by things they can’t fully grasp, and the geriatric docility and acceptance of life and death. Between innocence and old age lies a murky, long troubled stretch of unpredictability and consequence. The real treat of this film, despite its awkward melding of comedy and death, is how often it manages to capture those small moments between heartbreak and sincerity, feelings not always mutually exclusive.
We join Abi (the talented and beautiful Rosamund Pike), her husband Doug (Doctor Who’s David Tennant), and their three children, Lottie (Emilia Jones), Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), and Jess (Harriet Turnbull) as they’re about to head north to Scotland on a vacation to visit Gordie (Bill Connolly), Doug’s father. This seems like fun and games until we realize it’s actually the opposite, the facade of domestic bliss masks a dysfunctional family unit: Abi and Doug no longer live in the same house, their children entrusted on keeping the secret of an inevitable divorce under wraps during the trip.
They don’t want to upset or disappoint Gordie on his 75th birthday, nor cause unnecessary awkwardness amongst the family. It turns out that Gordie has terminal cancer and Doug doesn’t believe he’ll live to see another birthday, so it’s imperative to keep their impending divorce from his ailing father so the old timer can enjoy his final days.
Their long road trip to Scotland is confined inside a moving vehicle; with no love left to salvage every moment is ripe for yet another argument. Lottie, their oldest, is more aware than either of her two younger siblings and, subsequently, is the most affected. She’s grown tired of hearing her parents argue and even carries around a notebook to write down all the lies told by them as a record she can use later.
Once in Scotland they deal with family pressures and annoyances preparing for Gordie’s lavish 75th birthday bash. Everyone pities Gordie, finding him incapable of making his own choices. Despite his terminal condition, however, he’s full of life and joy, insisting on taking advantage of what little time he has to give some joy to his grandchildren and connect with them at their level, something their selfish parents seem to have forgotten.
While he loves all his grandchildren, he shows special affection for young Lottie. Ultimately, he relates, all her parents’ arguing and bickering is pointless; despite their loveless relationship, they will always love their children.
The film struggles when transitioning from one thematically heavy moment to a lighter comedic tone, by turns an enjoyable and frustrating mix of comedy and drama that doesn’t always work. The film starts strong with some good performances from Pike, Tennant, and Connolly, though midway through events take on a considerably darker and more serious tone, completely upending the whimsical nature that came before. I’ll be careful to not spoil what happens, but the change in direction alternates between inappropriately funny and unnecessarily cruel at times.
What We Did on Our Holiday isn’t a perfect combination of its different parts, and often feels as if the script has been patched together from different sources. The subject of divorce is handled too lightly at times, despite its obvious impact on the characters; some may find the scenario the children get into too macabre to be believed in what had prior been an otherwise routine family-friendly picture. Still, I enjoyed the ride, despite its flaws, and appreciated the effort to find both tragedy and comedy in that long journey called life.