What We Did On Our Holidays

Written and directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin

#familyconflict, #secrets, #death, #dying, #funerals, #vikingfunerals, #humour

This movie is for you if …. you want an exploration of death and dying with humour and purpose.
This movie may not be for you if… you are not in the headspace to confront family conflict around death or sudden death of a family member


Doug and Abi, estranged and separated parents of three—Lottie, Mickey and Jess—embark on a trip to the Scottish highlands to visit Doug’s father, Gordie, who is having his 75th birthday party, while at the same time dying of untreatable cancer.

The tension occurs in the opening minutes of this poignant, moving and comedic film. In order not to upset Gordie, Doug and Abi and the children are not going to tell him about the separation. They are all set to play happy families, including tutoring the kids in how to lie or avoid the subject. That’s the plan, anyway. But when one child, Jess, is carrying around two large bricks because she believes they’ll keep her safe and another child, Lottie, is keeping a diary of the lies she’s been asked to tell, it’s clear the potential for misadventure is high.

The film unfolds after a long drive from London to Scotland, during which the volatile family dynamics and history are skilfully revealed.

When they arrive, we meet Gavin (Doug’s brother), Margaret and their son, Kenneth, a wealthy family, who are dysfunctional in their own way. Tensions run high as the two brothers and their respective families clash over small, perfunctory things, such as some family heirlooms that Gavin has had valued. Gordie, resigning himself to being sidelined at his own party, responds to the squabbles by taking Doug and Abi’s kids and escaping to the beach in the ute, despite the protests of his children.

This film does an exceptional job of exploring, through both humour and tension, the human need to mark significant life moments and what makes a celebration authentic… or a failure. Doug and Gavin try to do the ‘right thing’ by holding an enormous party for their father. Doug and Abi do the ‘right thing’ by keeping their separation a secret. And everyone tries to do the ‘right thing’ by refusing to acknowledge the very real fact that Gordie is dying.

Caught up in the rules of how to behave, nobody feels able to be true to themselves. But then, when a sudden tragedy occurs, the children take the lead in an unexpected and moving show of heart and courage. Without the burden of knowing the ‘right thing’ to do, Lottie, Mickey and Jess follow their instincts and create an inspired and deeply authentic response to the tragedy.

The actions of the children, while initially challenging, ends up being a liberation for all concerned. Gordie gets his wish and the family reconcile through communion, music and dance.

What We Did on Our Holiday is inspiring, funny and immensely touching. It is a marvellous reminder of how, if we all stop and listen to the little voice inside, we are able to connect to each other in wonderful, meaningful ways. It is available to stream for free through SBS OnDemand at https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/movie/what-we-did-on-our-holiday/953000515996

Review by Matthew Hooper


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