“You need to live more and think less” says Gordy McLeod to his grandaughter Lottie as he lets her steer his ‘jeep’ on a perilous journey down to the beach in the new comedic gem What We Did on Our Holiday.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, which in many ways it is. The movie is not only a heart-warming story but also an honest and deeply affecting film about a family whose life is in free fall during a landmark 75th birthday celebration.
Set in the picturesque hills and dales of the Scottish highlands and strewn with sitcom like gags, the movie showcases the considerable acting talents of a great ensemble cast, which includes the living Scottish icon and treasure himself Billy Connolly as the wonderfully irreverent grandfather having the time of his life, Gordy McLeod.
The father of two sons, Gavin McLeod (Ben Miller) and Doug McLeod (David Tennant) and father in law to their wives Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) and Abi (Rosamund Pike), Gordy lets us all see just how ridiculous human beings can be at times.
Learning how to be a grown up in your late 30’s and 40’s seems to a malady of today’s society, who seem to take so long to take on what being a parent means before racing headlong into marital disaster. The adults of the cast who take on the various roles are very convincing.
Both Gordy’s sons are living in denial about the way they are ordering their lives, which is nothing short of a catastrophe just waiting to come to a head and happen. As indeed it finally does! The dichotomy between Miller and Tennant is palatable.
Their wives are also in another world and a league of their own, proving more than worthy of the task to hand. Amelia Bullmore as Margaret is dealing with a depression so bad she finally acts out her rage in a supermarket, smashing everything in sight and becoming a You Tube sensation. The people attending our session at Palace Cinemas Como were cheering!
Abi is endeavouring to be proper and perfect, although failing on all counts. Rosamund Pike as Abi oozes an inner strength and intelligence on screen that makes her both appealing and endearing at the same time.
She doesn’t seem at all phased when her eldest daughter asks her to ‘list the lies she will be required to tell’, especially the one about her parents living in separate houses.
It’s also a perfect role for Billy Connolly, who would be everyone’s idea of the best grandfather to have in the world, his comedic timing second to none and running gags all delight.
Connolly’s scenes with Abi and Doug’s extremely candid children portrayed by Emelia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull are more than priceless and together these four completely steal the show.
Bobby Smalldridge as Mickey is surely a born comedian with a naturalness that completely charms. Mickey’s totally hooked on ‘The Vikings’ watching the great Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis classic film whenever he can. He sees Odin and the Norse gods at ever turn.
When his uncle and aunt knowingly give him a ‘Viking’ helmet for his birthday he breaks off the pair of horns, understanding they are historically inaccurate having watched an archaeology show on television.
Emilia plays Lottie the eldest daughter, who is a young woman really although she’s only just 11 years old. The only way she can keep up and remain unconfused is to list everything down. Who could blame her there is so much going on.
Then there is the truly delight Harriet Turbull playing her youngest sibling Jess, whose lovely luminous face lights up the screen and radiates beguilingly. Jess brings her best friends to Scotland to see the sights, a rock named Eric and hefty breezeblock, Norman.
This marvelous trio take what they can glean easily from the Internet, including the now famous You Tube video of their aunt and share it with others.
The children through their actions force the familial adults in their lives to finally face not only facts but also the consequences of their actions.
This takes place during an intriguing and unexpected aspect of the movie we would not want to spoil.
Suffice to say it’s the children’s innovative way of dealing with a matter of life and death that not only transforms the adults but the audience as well.
Doug and Abi are in the middle of gaining a divorce and the trouble begins before they set out on a journey to Scotland together from London by car, when they ask their children to ‘bend the truth’ on their behalf.
Not unpredictably chaos will ensue, but what form it takes is completely unexpected.
Celia Imrie is Agnes Chisolm, brought in by officials to ‘assess’ the children and to discover if they are normal, whatever that means.
In today’s society that is certainly complicated. Would have hated to be in her shoes.
Gone is the innocence of children that prevailed in all films and movies prior to the swinging sixties and seventies.
In its place are children dealing with so much information both in what their parents are sharing with them, what they see on TV and on their ‘devices’ it borders on the absurd.
You will want to shout just go outside and play!
When faced with a dilemma many adults would find difficult to deal with, Lottie and her brother Mickey and younger sister Jess take charge with such clear resolve, unknowingly they also bring all the adult matters to a head.
Lottie is just terrific, while protective of her two siblings she is also busy challenging them to be who they are and to help her save the day. She takes on the role of the parent.
She trusts them both with an important task, and they don’t let her down.
Feeling very alone, she rises to the occasion and applies her wisdom to dealing with all the various adults integral to the chaotic event they are involved in, performing with great conviction.
Co-writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin directed this British comedic masterpiece set around the arrival of hundreds of guests assembled to help celebrate Gordie’s 75th birthday party with considerable style.
The setting up of the hire marquee with great tables, chairs, floral, sound and light decorations is being organised from a running sheet that most wedding planners would want to copy.
Gavin and Margaret are in charge of the great event, which is taking place on land in front of their ‘manor like’ house in the Scottish countryside.
They seem a stitched up couple to be sure – he’s a ‘short seller’, not short of the ready necessary, and willing and happy to share it around to a point!
The scene where he tries to explain his lucrative career to his nephew Mickey is indeed, priceless.
Gavin is so busy keeping up appearances he doesn’t notice how much trouble his own wife Margaret and only son Kenneth (Lewis Davie) are in as they both struggle continually to keep up and to ‘do him proud’, which has to, and finally does take its toll.
Kenneth plays the violin choosing pieces he knows his father would like rather than ‘going mental’ as his grandfather encourages him to do, because he wants him to find out what he really wants.
It is inevitable that when he finally does, Kenneth enjoys his own small version of a triumph alongside a bonny lassie, who in the tradition of carpe diem siezes more than the moment.
So much to think about after seeing this pure delight, which will continue to bring a smile to your face and warm glow to your heart for hours as it challenges perceptions of what being an adult means.
One to cherish – 4/5
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015