On paper, this looked rather promising. Created by the writing team that brought us Outnumbered, it seemed to belong in that same tried-and-tested arena of harassed parents vs precocious children. Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) are taking their three young kids up to the Scottish Highlands to visit Granddad Gordie (Billy Connolly) to celebrate his birthday, but nothing here is as straightforward as it might appear. Doug and Abi have actually separated after his infidelity with one of his students, while Granddad Gordie isn’t going to be celebrating any more birthdays, as he’s suffering from terminal cancer. So rather than upset him, everyone (kids included) is told to pretend that it’s business as usual.
The film starts well, following the established Outnumbered formula, as the two parents struggle to control their fractious offspring in a variety of picturesque locations on the long drive up to Scotland and there are plenty of laughs, expertly mined. But all too soon they arrive at their destination and we are introduced to Granddad Gordie, who unfortunately turns out to be one of those all-wise creations who wander around spouting lines that would be better placed on a series of novelty fridge magnets. On the morning of the birthday bash (an overly elaborate and expensive affair orchestrated by Doug’s pompous brother, Gavin (Ben Miller) and his depressive wife, Agnes (Amelia Bulmore), Gordie decides to take the three kids on a fishing trip and at this point, the story takes an abrupt left turn into much darker (and it has to be said, faintly unbelievable) territory. The three children take centre stage and matters aren’t helped one jot by the fact that they are considerably less appealing than their TV counterparts – the little girl in particular is profoundly irritating.
Having served up a mostly laughter-free middle section, the writers decide that what we really need to round things off is a syrupy, optimistic conclusion, which they duly deliver complete with a cliff top Highland Fling at sunset. This is a pity, because the film promised so much in its first half hour, that the dismal ending somehow rings even more hollow. Though there are decent performances from most of the adult actors, this can only count as a missed opportunity.