01 March 2016

What we did on our holiday (starring David Tennant and Rosamund Pike)

‘Hilarious British comedy’, the blurb said. The stars are David Tennant, who’s pretty good value in anything, Billy Connolly, whom I’ve only recently begun to appreciate as a character actor, and Rosamund Pike, who was - I gather - one of the Bennet sisters in the 2005 version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It was an obvious film to add to my wishlist, and one that I was pleased to be given at Christmas.

We weren’t so certain about it when it started. We meet a family who are clearly under stress; the parents - we quickly learn - are separated, putting on a united front for the sake of an elderly and terminally ill grandparent. The three children are caught up in this, the eldest asking for clear lists of lies which should be told, and information that must not be revealed to the extended family. The youngest, meanwhile, has a passionate attachment to a collection of stones, all of which must travel in the car on their lengthy journey into Scotland.

The journey is long, dogged by traffic and parental bickering, and the eventual arrival overshadowed by the evident frailty of Grandpa, and the shallowness of the children’s uncle, who is organising a huge party to celebrate his father’s imminent 75th birthday.

It’s hardly the theme of a ‘hilarious comedy’, and could have been maudlin, even devastatingly tragic. But somehow it works. The acting is superb, the characters believable despite some increasingly bizarre scenes, and even the inevitable tragedy and parental obliviousness manage, somehow, to feed unexpectedly humorous lines and situations.

And yes, we laughed. This was no schadenfreude: our sympathies were with the children, feeling for them in their difficult decisions, and their determination to honour their grandfather. The parents, caught in the middle, with their petty, sometimes selfish concerns, were the ones who were the butt of most of the humour.

The children reminded me forcibly of the three ‘Railway Children’ at times, in the way they pulled together, and their general chemistry; we didn’t watch the extras so I don’t know if their parts were closely scripted or more spontaneous: it doesn’t matter. They were exceptional in their parts, believable as a family unit, pulling together in the face of unreliable adults, and their comic timing was superb.

I wondered in the early stages - and towards the middle - whether it would be disappointing, or depressing, but despite the bittersweet and potentially tragic theme, it was a thought-provoking, uplifting, and thoroughly enjoyable film.

Rated 12 for some bad language and innuendoes, and a potentially devastating scene that could disturb younger or more sensitive viewers.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews