Tolkien – The movie

First of all, my apologies for my tardiness. It’s been almost 3 weeks since my last post. As my school report may have said “Not good enough – Could do better”.

A week or more ago I went to the local cinema to see the Tolkien movie. It takes us through the early life of writer, poet, linguist and academic John Ronald Reuel Tolkien – born in South Africa in 1892, died England 1973.

The movie begins just after Tolkien and his mother and brother arrive in the UK following the death of his father in South Africa and takes us on a journey of his life, education, friends, loves, world war 1, his professorship at Oxford University and the writing of his first published book “The Hobbit”.

I don’t want to say too much about the movie as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. From my point of view there were some scenes that seemed to be unnecessary or too long and other scenes or things that happened in his life that were barely touched on…..for example his writing process. I would have liked to have known more about how he first had the idea to write his stories of middle earth. Did the characters come first or the basic plot outline? You don’t really get to know this from the movie.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It certainly tugged at the emotions. I recommend watching it. Rotten Tomatoes only rated it at 51% and yet 86% of viewers enjoyed it. See it for yourselves and make up your own minds.

The scenes from the trenches of WW1 are a reminder of the folly of man, of the waste of young lives and the horror of trench warfare.

In the forming of a “fellowship” with 3 other young and gifted friends at Oxford – where he studied on a full scholarship – you can see where he got the initial seeds may have been sown for the “Fellowship of the Rings”.

A link to the official movie trailer is here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ1vn85iQRE

Tolkien’s passion was languages. He was fluent in many. Words fascinated him – so much so that he invented his own language. And if the movie is to be believed, it was his invention of this “fairy/elvish” language that impressed a Professor at Oxford enough to earn him a scholarship to study “Old English” languages and to later teach at Oxford himself.

He was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford up until the end of WW2, after which he was Professor of English Language and Literature. He was made an O.B.E. by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 – a year before his death.

The Hobbit – which I remember reading at school as a nine year old – was his first published novel (in 1937), although not the first one he wrote. His first full length novel The Silmarillion – a book that paved the way for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings – was written in 1926, rejected at that point by the publishers, and not published until 1977 – 4 years after his death – along with other works and essays discovered by his son Christopher.

Thanks to the power of the silver screen Tolkien will mostly be remembered for the spectacular Lord of the Rings trilogy – written and published in 1954 and 55 – brought to vivid life by New Zealander Peter Jackson’s series of movies.

The entire cast do a great job, particularly the two leads – Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins (daughter of singer/song writer Phil Collins). If it comes to a cinema near you…..see the movie – you won’t be disappointed.

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Movies we keep coming back for.

I guess we all have our favourite movies – you know the ones we’re able to watch time and time again without becoming bored with them. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the comments section at the end of this post. One of our favourites is without a doubt THE WAY – written, produced, directed and co-starring Emilio Estevez, with his father Martin Sheen in the lead role wonderfully supported by Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt and Yorick van Wageningen. Other extended family members of the Estevez clan get minor roles making it a real family affair.

Although the movie starts off in California, 95% of it is filmed on location in south west France and northern Spain. It’s worth watching for the scenery alone, but the main story line and the back stories of the characters that become apparent along the way, and indeed along THE WAY, is what makes me and my wife watch this movie on a regular basis.

If ever we need to be reminded about what’s good about life….on goes the DVD. It’s definitely a feel good movie – even though Estevez’s character is killed off very early on in an accident in the Pyrenees while hiking “The Way of St. James” – also known as the Camino de Santiago – from St Jean Pied de Port, France to it’s destination at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the final resting place of the earthly remains of St James – one of the apostles of Jesus.

In the story, Sheen and Estevez – real life father and son – play father and son. The father being a successful dentist in California and the son breaking the news to his father that he no longer wants to pursue his doctorate at university but instead wants to experience life on the road, travelling the world. We can assume from earlier exchanges between the two that there is some friction between them and they haven’t seen eye to eye since the death of Estevez’s mother – Sheen’s wife some years earlier.

Sheen takes Estevez to the airport to see him off on his flight to Europe and there is still tension between them when they part. Sheen’s character says to his son something along the lines of “You may not think much of my life, but it’s the life I chose” – referring to his weekdays as a dentist and his weekends spent playing golf. His sons come back to this remark is “You don’t choose a life Dad, you live one” – meaning that there is a whole world out there to discover and to feel alive in. Jump forward a few weeks. Sheen, whilst on the golf course with his other Dr buddies receives a phone call from a police inspector in France who tells him that his son is dead. Killed in an accident. Sheen shocked, puts his business on hold, for a week, and sets off for France to bring back his sons body.
“So what’s so feel good about that?” I hear you ask. I am getting to it, really I am.

Sheen’s initial plan is to fly to France, identify the body and bring it straight back to the USA, but once there at the foot of the Pyrenees, at night in his hotel room going through his dead sons belongings, he has a sort of epiphany and decides instead to have his son cremated and to complete the hike on his sons behalf, taking the ashes along the way. He contacts his secretary at his practice and tells her he’s going to be a little longer and to delay all appointments for a month. This delay gets longer and longer as the movie progresses.

They filmed the movie over 40 consecutive days along the Way – with the movies characters walking along side regular people also completing the long hike. Sheen discreetly leaves little piles of his sons ashes at points along the 800 kilometre (500 mile) hike. It’s the things he sees and does along the way and the people he meets and interacts with….and the way his character softens and mellows that brings the feelgood factor. He has a major shift in attitude and about what’s important about life in general.

Apart from the main characters, the majority of the extras in the film are simply tourists and travelers out doing the hike for themselves. Sheen’s character is tested a number of times along the way especially when he almost loses his sons ashes….twice, but under very different circumstances. Has trouble with gypsies, almost drowns in a river and has serious doubts about his religious beliefs. He also spends a night in police cells. His patience is tested by his other supporting actors characters as they attempt to find out why it is that Sheen is doing the hike in the first place. But by the end, this ramshackle group of individuals, who would have never met in their “normal” lives become a tight band of friends.

That’s not a spoiler by the way. It’s how the story and characters develop that is so interesting and heart warming. The very end is also quite unexpected and very uplifting – (I think so anyhow). If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a trailer for the movie to whet your appetite.

And don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me what movie you can watch over and over without becoming tired of it. Thank you and goodbye until next time.

Just passing through…..a life’s journey.

New Zealand writer Peter Wells (died 18 Feb 2019) signed off with a book about his own death titled “Hello Darkness”. It follows the last year and 4 months of his life, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2017. The book broke new ground in that much of it was written on his own Facebook page and the writing was accompanied by his own photographs.

But that is typical Wells. He has always been a breaker of new ground, of being a leader and not a follower. He was one of New Zealand’s first openly gay writers and was writing about gay topics as far back as the 1980’s. In 1998 he was co-founder of the “Auckland Writers Festival” and also co-founded in 2016 “Samesame But Different” – New Zealand’s first LGBTQI Writers Festival. His goal was for the festival to be “an exciting event that makes people think about sexuality, difference and community, stretches their understanding, gives them a few laughs and creates a slightly magic space for two days in February.” This years festival finished on February 10th. It was Well’s 4th and last.

He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but from the 1980’s onward also made films and documentaries predominantly about historical and/or gay themes.

His own blog site says this on his profile page…. “Peter Wells writes books and makes films. His films include idiosyncratic documentaries about conserving at-risk architecture like a flamboyant 1929 picture palace, or a shoe-obsessed gay man who tells his life story through women’s shoes (made with friend and fellow film-maker Garth Maxwell). He co-wrote and co-directed ‘Desperate Remedies’, a feature film described as ‘Jane Austen on acid’. His books include award winning short stories and novels. ‘Iridescence’, for example, about an Englishman with a secret hiding in Victorian Napier. His memoir Long Loop Home looked back at his New Zealand childhood with the wry glance of loss and affection.”

All of which brings me around to my reason for writing about him. Whilst he was without doubt a talented writer and film maker – my reason for writing about Wells is his connection to Hawke’s Bay – where I live. He lived for some time in a house on Napier Hill where he wrote what became known as his “Napier Trilogy” – comprising of his highly rated book “The Hungry Heart” – about William Colenso, the very knowledgeable clergyman/missionary who was also a printer, botanist, explorer and politician – but who was also a recluse, “Journey to a Hanging” which was a racially charged book about the horrific death of the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner in 1865…killed by Kereopa Te Rau, a Maori leader, who was found guilty of killing, beheading, eating the eyes and drinking the blood of Völkner and was subsequently hanged for the crime, and finally “Dear Oliver” – subtitled “Uncovering a Pakeha History” – which was a book written about his own family history, followed back in time in snippets of historical memories. It was hailed as a masterclass in writing history.

He was also partly responsible for the birth of the appreciation of Art Deco architecture in Napier and the start of what has become a phenomenally popular annual event “Napier Art Deco Festival” with his 1985 documentary film “Newest City on the Globe” which he wrote and directed and in doing so brought the architectural splendour of Art Deco Napier to the world. Shortly after this film was released, film crews from the USA visited Napier to record in this Art Deco jewel of the south pacific. After that Napier was no longer a secret tourist backwater.

The first Napier Art Deco Weekend Festival was in 1989 and with each passing year the event grows bigger and bigger and is celebrated by locals and tourists/art deco aficionado’s from all over the world.

For all this and more – Peter Wells – we salute you.

If you want to find out more about the man and his work, Links to Peter Wells blog, his Wikipedia page, the Auckland Writers Festival, the Samesame but Different site and the Napier Art Deco Trust web page are below.

http://www.peterwellsblog.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Wells_(writer)

http://www.writersfestival.co.nz/

http://www.samesamebutdifferent.co.nz/

https://www.artdeconapier.com/

Bastards I have met…..a book by Barry Crump.

Please forgive the use of the B word. 

Be advised that this post contains profanities and details of violent  crime. Those of sensitive demeanour should stop reading now.

Image result for barry crump bastards i have met

For those of you who are still reading, this is partly a look at a best selling NZ authors tongue in cheek book about “Bastards” and his rugged lifestyle and partly about the more serious subject of actual Bastards – murderers and the like – who I have come across during my lifetime. OK so back to the book and the writer …..Barry Crump – or Crumpy to those familiar with him or his books was a man who didn’t mince his words. He called a spade a spade and a shovel a shovel (whatever that means…). He was a straight talker. In this book – published in 1971 – he points out that for every true hero there are about 15,000 bastards and goes on to give anyone interested his A to Z of “bastardry”. Most of the “bastards” he talks about are in actual fact likeable rogues, or the type of annoying bastard that we’d all prefer to ignore and he gives us a run down on the various categories of bastard complete with fictitious latin names, including the Actual (Bastardus fairdinkumus), through Lazy, (Bastardus loafus) and Nasty (Bastardus notquiteniceus), to Literate (Bastardus bookwormus) and Stupid (Bastardus clottus). It’s all written very much tongue in cheek and it’s all a bit of nonsensical fun…he doesn’t get into talking about the real evil bastards that we sometimes come up against in real life. And be warned I will be talking about such people at the other end of this post.

For those who aren’t familiar with Crump’s work, he was a typical Kiwi (New Zealand) bushman who made a living hunting – in the main part, deer or possums on department of conservation land. Usually employed by DOC to keep an area pest free. He also did a stint in Australia shooting Crocodiles. He was always a lover of a good yarn – a story that is, not a ball of wool – and became a writer of semi-autobiographical novels. Many of the novels would have a central character who was the typical “Good Keen Man” – obviously based on his good self…..someone who was a bit of a scallywag…a rascal, but with a heart of gold.

The fame of his early books landed him a part in Toyota’s commercials for their rugged 4 wheel drive vehicles….and Crumpy got a new Toyota for his trouble. Link to the ad is below. He really punishes those Toyotas.

One of his books “Wild Pork and Watercress” was adapted into the movie “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”. It’s everything kiwi, it’s funny, well scripted, has some lovely shots of the New Zealand bush (wilderness) and is well worth a look. The link to the YouTube trailer is here…

Anyway…getting back to the subject of bastards….It got me thinking about some of the more unsavoury characters that I have had the displeasure to meet in my life so far. It also got me thinking that if there truly is a god, he or she must have been having an off day when they allowed such people to breathe the same air as the rest of us.

I don’t pretend to be perfect – I have my faults, some of which I am certainly not proud of – but compared to some of theses “Bastards I have met” – I am almost angelic.

There are people who are “bad” because of the way they have been raised – a combination of their environment and their family history never gave them a fair chance at being a “good” person. Unfortunately there are also people who are not only bad, but are evil to boot – by choice, because they want to be. They enjoy it and it gives them a feeling of power over the weak….and a feeling of mental superiority. I’m talking about the type of people who look just like you and me…they could be your neighbour, work mate….even a family member. They look ordinary….normal. BUT deep inside is a black heart and an evil – some would say insane – mind. They aren’t insane though. Everything they do is controlled and carefully thought through and when they get caught, as some of them inevitably do get caught, they profess their innocence, claim it’s a travesty of justice and that the world is against them because “no one in their right mind would do such a thing”.

I’m talking about people who – for example – pretend to be on a business trip far enough away from their chosen scene of the crime to put enough doubt in a jurors mind. They make sure that someone – preferably more than one person – has seen them in this place….and then speed home and murder their wife and child in the most brutal and violent way. Then later, when the bodies are discovered, by an unwitting relative, play the victim and publicly seek to avenge the deaths of his family – fully knowing all the time that his alibi is almost watertight and his chances of being found guilty minimal…..that is until DNA evidence catches up with him and firmly puts him at the scene of the crime in clothing contaminated by the victims blood and gore. This was an actual case here in NZ. Horrific.

Another undeniable “B” that I met is an extortionist – his victim was so traumatised that they committed suicide. He’s also a molester of young boys and he’s a murderer, having stabbed to death the father of a child he was molesting. He then escaped from prison at least once, taunting the police, the Department of Corrections and the government – yet thinks that HE should be given special rights and privileges over other criminals because he is of above average intelligence. He is also extremely vain and complained bitterly when the press showed photos of him without his wig. Again, a softly spoken, well read, intelligent person who can hold a pleasant conversation. Yet in an unguarded moment undeniably IS a very dangerous person….and a very nasty bastard indeed.

These people do exist. I have met them. Talked with them. The terrible thing is that if I hadn’t been aware of the details of the crimes committed I could easily have liked the person responsible for such vile actions. You see they are controlled, measured, normal, “reasonable” people – on the surface. They can be pleasant and behave in an acceptable way for 99.9% of the time…..and yet commit the most horrific atrocities. That’s why they are so terrifying. That they then, once caught and convicted – despite the mountain of evidence against them and the guilty verdict in one or more trials, tie up the justice system and spend thousands if not millions of dollars of public money on appeals and re-trials (because they know the system and how to manipulate it) makes me incredibly angry. This much needed public money would be better spent on the sick, the hungry and the homeless.

These criminals….the murderers and rapists are sometimes (but not always) put away in prison for lengthy periods because we no longer have the option of the death sentence. Capital punishment was last used in 1957 in New Zealand. Was abolished for murder in 1961 and was totally abolished – even for treason – in 1989. Here in New Zealand it costs around $100,000 per year to keep one person in prison. That’s just for your run of the mill ordinary prisoner…without the costs of any special treatment or appeals factored in. $100,000 each prisoner, per year – no wonder there’s no money for housing, hospitals and schools!

Back when I was working at my first “real job” after leaving school in England I saw a guy – a truck driver – who would regularly pick up and drop of goods at the depot where I worked. His name was Peter William Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper. On the surface a quiet, almost shy, truckie who kept himself to himself….oh yes and just happened to be a serial killer. In 1981 he was found guilty of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder 7 others. Lord alone knows how many more….other potential victims he’d scoped out. He was given 20 concurrent life sentences so will never be released from prison. He will die behind bars. He’s already served 37 years and is only 72 years old….so could live for quite a few years yet…getting 3 meals a day, a roof over his head, the option of books from a library, education etc. all at the public’s expense.

These are just 3 examples of – to quote the title of Crumpy’s book – “Bastards I have met”. There are more, many more just like these men – unfortunately.

I consider myself to be a pacifist…..very much a live and let live type of guy who believes that criminals should be given a chance to rehabilitate and prove that they are worthy of a place in society….once they have paid their dues.

In a recent blog post…or was it on FaceBook?… I suggested that the USA may be an uncivilised country because they still have the death penalty. BUT men like that – like the ones I have mentioned above….I should say PEOPLE like that to be politically correct, (but they are usually men), people who are so devious and deviant and can’t be trusted to truly reform – have me thinking that maybe the death sentence should still be an option – even in so called civilised countries, in this day and age.

It’s a controversial subject and I know that any two people can be poles apart in their opinions about capital punishment. This is simply my opinion based on my own experience.

Again, I apologise if I have offended anyone with what I have written about in this post.

Ernest Hemingway – love him …or hate him.

I have a love/hate relationship with Hemingway. I have tried a number of times to read his novels. Every book of his has frustrated me and I’ve put them down unfinished. There’s just something about his style of writing that grates against me….like fingernails down a chalk-board.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I picked up “A Moveable Feast” in our local library, vowing to give Hemingway one last chance to redeem himself. I’m already half way through and to my surprise and delight I am actually enjoying it…..so what’s changed? Frankly I have no idea. The writing style is the same so perhaps it’s the subject matter….my beloved Paris.

Ah Paris! City of Lights, City of Love and Romance, City of Style and Fashion, City of Art and Literature. Home of many of the writing greats of the past and present…for some permanently for others a temporary home. And no doubt she…Paris…will continue to inspire writers and artists for years to come.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

It should be noted that this particular book is not a novel….but more a collection of essays about Hemingway’s time spent in Paris. According to the all knowing oracle Wikipedia – “A Moveable Feast is a memoir by American author Ernest Hemingway about his years as a struggling young migrant journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920’s. The book, first published in 1964, describes the author’s apprenticeship as a young writer while he was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.” Possibly it is just my time to find enlightenment in Hemingway’s words. Unlike my wife who had to read Hemingway’s “The old man and the sea” at school and proclaimed it “possibly the most boring book in the world” – I only ever thought to pick up one of his books after seeing Woody Allen’s 2011 movie “Midnight in Paris” – which I have touched on in an earlier blog post.

In the movie Hemingway is seen rubbing shoulders with other literary and artistic greats such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot (all members of the Lost Generation of writers), Pablo Picasso, Degas, Man Ray, Cole Porter and many others. I initially thought that it was simply Allen taking poetic licence in placing all these legendary people in the one place at the same time, but reading Hemingway’s book – it confirms that he knew and mixed with many of these people and more. He was also friends with Ezra Pound and James Joyce and politely suffered the company of Ford Madox Ford – who was, it seems, invariably – in later years – the worse for drink. Ford was a fellow writer and novelist, a champion of literature – established, new and experimental, and a publisher. He even published some of Hemingway’s work.

It must have been marvelous to have been in Paris back then.
In the movie, Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender – played by Owen Wilson refers to 1920’s Paris as being the Golden Age – something refuted by another character Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard – who insisted that the Golden Age was during the Belle Epoque period, which of course ended in 1914 with the start of the first world war. It seems that everyone has their own individual ideal nostalgic period. In the movie, Gil Pender is transported magically back from present day Paris to 1920’s Paris. Here is a short YouTube trailer of the movie showing the scene where Pender meets Hemingway. And Hemingway speaks the way that he writes. No one else talks this way….no one!

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the cafes that they frequented. To listen to the literary discussions and friendly, often drunken banter

Hemingway’s early years in Paris were as a struggling writer and he and his wife would live in the cheapest part of town in an apartment which shared a bathroom on the landing with other apartments on that floor, would sometimes miss meals and rarely bought new clothes in order to afford the little luxuries of life. Money it seems would always find Hemingway just at the time that it was most needed. He professes to have had a fairly carefree…almost worry free existence, where finances were concerned. Something always turned up to save the day, whether it be an against the odds win on the horses, an overdue royalty payment from a magazine or publisher, or even simply being able to borrow books from Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company – rather than having to buy them.

I guess it’s a reminder that every writer has to start somewhere….and in a way it should give all of us “struggling writers” hope.

I’d love to hear from you….please tell me if you love or hate Hemingway….and if you love his writings, which book you consider to be his finest piece of literature.

Green Book

If you haven’t seen the movie Green Book, I’d like to recommend that you do.

It’s been both lauded by the film critics and also panned for historical inaccuracies. However, I believe that it IS worth watching. It’s based on real life events…real people. I’ll put a link to the trailer at the end of this post.

It highlights the racial tension of the 1960’s in the southern states of the USA and follows the life of Donald Walbridge Shirley – born in Florida in 1927 to Jamaican immigrant parents. But Don is no ordinary black man. He is something that people particularly in the deep south don’t understand…..he is a musical genius AND more importantly a highly educated, intelligent and sophisticated black man. He held doctorates in music, psychology and liturgical arts and could speak 8 languages fluently as well as being an extraordinarily gifted pianist who started playing the piano at the age of 2 and was invited to study music theory at the Leningrad Conservatory of music at the age of 9. He was also a talented painter.

The movie begins with Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga – a New York nightclub bouncer applying for a job as a driver for Doctor Shirley. He is shocked to find out that Doctor Shirley is a negro and that he wants Tony to be not only his driver but also his protector for a tour of venues in the deep south of the USA, where the Don Shirley jazz trio will give a series of musical performances…….to rich white folks. There’s a scene early in the movie in Tony and his wife’s apartment where a couple of black work men are given a drink of water by Tony’s wife and Tony puts the glasses that the guys have used into the trash rather than washing them and using them again. He accepts the job because he needs the money and reluctantly sets off with Shirley armed with the “Green Book” which gives the movie it’s title.

The Green Book in question is a guide for blacks who travel in the south and lists motels and restaurants where they will be welcomed. There are not many…..and those that do accept blacks are shabby and run down.

The movie highlights the racial problem and also the differences between the northern united states and the south. The people of the south are willing to shake hands with this musical genius and are eager to be entertained by him, but don’t want him eating with them in the same restaurant – even though he is better dressed than most of them, better educated and better mannered. Nor do they want him using the same toilet as them.

It’s funny how blacks used to be employed by whites to prepare their meals and even look after their kids…..but they weren’t allowed to use the same bathroom. I forget who said it, but someone once said that you knew when the great depression really hit the white folks…..it was when they used to have to look after their own children.

The police in the south, just like those in the north, are meant to “serve and protect” and by the terms of the US Constitution – to treat everyone equally. “No State shall… abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” BUT it seems that in the deep south, “any person” doesn’t apply to blacks and we see Dr Shirley obstructed and abused by both the good old white folks and the police.

Racism is bred from ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar or unknown. In the movie we see Tony’s attitude toward Don Shirley change as he comes to know him better. It’s a life lesson.

I’m not going to spoil it for you by giving away the whole plot, but it is worth watching just to see how the relationship between the two men – from totally different backgrounds – changes as the movie progresses.

Don Shirley is a misfit. He’s black…..but doesn’t fit in with black society because of his education and sophistication. BUT neither is he accepted into white society due to the colour of his skin. This feeling of isolation drives him to drink and he becomes an alcoholic. It is also insinuated that Dr Shirley is a homosexual which only adds to the tension and prejudice against him.

Here’s the official trailer of the movie to tempt you.

Official Universal Pictures trailer – Green Book

It’s a movie that both entertains and informs. Sad and frustrating in parts and funny and uplifting in others. It’s a relationship movie….a road trip movie…a lesson in life….it has action, great music, great actors and a good script (written partly by the real Tony Lip’s son……who incidentally also plays one of Tony’s family members in the movie). I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What we did on our Holiday.

No I’m not going to bore the pants off you writing about our fun old-fashioned family Christmas. I’m writing about a British made, 2014 movie called “What we did on our Holiday” – which is one of the funniest, yet at the same time poignant, movies I have ever seen. There are 3 young kids in it who are simply brilliant. The primary adult stars are David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly and Ben Miller, sterlingly supported by Amelia Bullmore, Annette Crosby and Celia Imrie. But it’s the three children who steal the show and are superb. Their names are Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull. If you haven’t seen the movie – try to watch it on line or borrow it from a DVD store/library – it’s a real treat to watch.

Official trailer of the movie.

The story centres around the kids and Tennant and Pike who play their parents and live in the south of England. I should say at this point that the parents are on a trial separation and living in separate houses. BUT Tennant’s father, – Billy Connolly is about to celebrate his 75th birthday at his other son’s home in Scotland. In order not to upset Connolly, Pike and Tennant put on a united front to pretend that they are still together and that everything is absolutely rosie between them. Of course kids being kids – let the cat out of the bag.

The road trip from England up to the Scottish highlands is an eventful and argumentative one – with several amusing incidents. On arrival – finally, at Tennant’s brothers house – which turns out to be a huge mansion in park like grounds – we are shown that the relationship between the two brothers is a competitive one…..this is highlighted by the family football match on the lawn.

The birthday party for Connolly is oldest son Gavin’s (Miller) idea, who has to do everything extravagantly as a demonstration of his wealth and to show little brother (Tennant) who is the most successful of them. He has invited hundreds of guests and the party will be in a huge marquee on the main lawn. All Connolly is interested in though is spending time with his grand children – so he takes them off in a 4 wheel drive across the moorland to an isolated sandy beach until it’s time to return for the party.

It is revealed early in the movie that Connolly’s character is very sick with cancer and isn’t expected to see his next birthday – which is partly why there is a lot of fuss being made over this one – his 75th. The drugs he is on to fight the cancer are bad for his heart…..which is not as strong as it should be. This makes Connolly even more determined to get away to the beach with the grand kids and just watch them at play. They have some very deep and meaningful talks with him sitting on the beach. Some of which apparently is scripted and some ad-libbed. The kids are brilliant!

SPOILER ALERT!

They bury grandad in the sand and he pretends he’s dead. The kids become concerned and lean in close to check on him – he bursts out of the sand and scares them half to death. The chatter and play continues for a while and the kids talk about death with Connolly and he tells them that when he dies he would hate the sons to arrange his funeral as there would be arguments and things would be blown out of proportion and that what he’d really love is to have a Viking funeral. The body placed on a flaming boat and pushed out to sea. He tells the kids that they should try to enjoy life and be happy and content with their lot and not get drawn into petty arguments because “people are ridiculous and in the end nothing really matters”. After this he sits on the beach and the kids go off looking for crabs etc…..only to return to find that grandad (Connolly) has really died and is laying motionless on the sand.

Oldest grand daughter Lottie (Emilia Jones) – after checking grandad’s pulse, listening for a heart beat and checking that he is indeed no longer breathing – leaves the two younger kids to watch over grandad’s body while she races across country back to the mansion to alert the family of Connolly’s demise. When she gets there though everyone – the adults that is – are arguing. She realizes what a mess the adults will make of things when they find out that Connolly is dead, so she turns round, runs back to the beach and the kids decide to give grandad his Viking funeral.

Only after they have built a makeshift raft from bits and pieces found on the beach and rolled grandad onto it, set it alight and let the tide take him out to sea………do they return home to tell the rest of the family that grandad is dead.

This naturally coincides with the arrival of all the guests for his birthday party and how the kids break the news to the family is hilarious! I’ll add a link to that scene for you to see for yourselves….below.

So there you have it. It is honestly one of the best movies for laughs, life lessons, scenes showing typical family disagreements, family bonding in a crisis – and brilliant acting especially by the 3 younger actors. The scenes I have linked may be spoilers, but I hope that they actually inspire you to watch the entire movie. I’ll definitely be watching it again. It’s fairly low budget but a great comedic script and exceptional actors.

After all that I can’t give it any less than 5 out of 5.