Do you know how to be a terrific grandparent? Do you have the simple, loving, trusting love of your grandchildren? Will they weep at your funeral? Will they stand higher than the adults and honour your passing with fire and water?
Old Jack here yearns for all the answers to be yes, for you and for me.
And of all the places to find a gorgeous representation of this, wholly unexpectedly, I commend you to a couple of hours in the company of Lottie, Mickey and Jess, proving themselves infinitely superior to their parents, aunts and uncles, and chattering innocently to…
PROPER SPOILERS HEREAFTER…
Now, look, this is a film based in the complexity of modern families and the joix-de-vivre of the BBC sitcom, Outnumbered. The kids and their from-the-mouths honesty make this a film stuffed with quality comedy, unexpected depth and lightly-handled drama.
The kids are with their mum, Abi (Rosamund Pike in modern, wounded mode), separated by a road from their Dad (David Tennant taking a stab at natural). The latter has had an affair and the couple are divorcing unpleasantly. The kids are caught in the middle of the rage and lies as they all head up to the Highlands to honour Gordie’s 75th and (cancer, that fucking disease) final birthday. Dad Doug then rows with his brother Gavin (Ben Miller in odd accent, familiar uptightness and millionaire’s smugness) and they all watch the psychological crunching of Gavin’s wife Margaret into depression. Amelia Bullmore is the latter and gives a deft performance, skipping through comedy, to comic depression, to the fuggish end of things.
Ultimately, this is the mess that draws the kids – all pith and insight – to Billy Connolly’s Gordie. A loving grandpa, he carries the memory of his own long-lost brother, and the drive for an active, inventive life that the oldest child, Emilia Jones as Lottie, is missing by choking her days into empty control. Plainly affected by her parents’ lies (they must all hide the divorce from Gordie, but he sees through things with a dry eye), Lottie is torn in the worst of ways by the family atmosphere.
The best scenes, for old Jack, are the bonding between Gordie and Lottie. He urges her to live life and let go. Done with fun and that clever edge of Connolly, clearly impacted by the Parkinson’s he bears in real life, they seem to make the grandparent as happy as they help the child to find a kind of peace. Not least when he panics her into driving down to the beach.
Old Jack is a bit of a romantic, as you’ll have spotted. What he did not expect was to so completely enjoy…
…the death of Gordie. Lessons taught, he lies back on the beach, a flash of the long-gone sibling in his thoughts, and fades away. The children realise he has gone. Lottie runs back to the house and sees the middle-agers in full-on disappointing mode. She returns to the beach and the kids do what any oldster would hope for. Gordie’s dream is a Viking ending, and they find a way to do that for him. Loved, respected, he floats away on an improvised raft, flames rising; remembered.
The business of shock and family take over and all the issues of divorce, rage, depression, social services and media intrusion finish off the film very nicely. But, for me, it is that moment on the beach that resonates and makes the intent of What We Did on Our Holiday really rather special.
So, there you go. Mostly a comedy, with delightful or delicious performances all round, this is a film to show you how to be that perfect grandparent. Go on, in case you’re a bit lost, add a baseline of love and crazy to your life. And have a laugh.