Warning: contains spoilers for 4-episode series The Holiday.
Despite spending the rest of their time driving SUVs, sending their kids to private school and buying-to-let, there’s a tranche of the population who, for two weeks a year, give socialism a whirl. For a fortnight in a rented Mediterranean villa, they and their pals share the means of production, distribution and exchange – chiefly in the area of making lamb tagines – and attempt to live communally. It rarely goes smoothly. There’s tension over the wine-to-food ratio in the shared shopping budget. One of the mums keeps letting her sarong fall off in front of the youngest dad. By the time they’re all sunburned and somebody commits the war crime of letting somebody else’s child have a Robinsons Fruit Shoot, everyone’s pining for home.
Four-part UK thriller The Holiday takes that premise and adds murder. Disappointingly, what it fails to also add are characters with traits other than ‘goes jogging’, ‘Swedish’ and ‘has beard’. Despite casting a solid lead in Jill Halfpenny, the characterisation in this series is thinner than an airline blanket. Halfpenny’s given little to work with as police officer Kate, who suspects that husband Sean (Owen McDonnell) is having an affair after finding texts between him and a mystery woman who may very well be one of her three university friends also on this trip to paradise/Malta.
Those friends are Jenny and Alistair, who dislike each other but not as much as everybody else dislikes their teenage son Jake; and Rowan and Russ, another unhappy couple with a young daughter named Odette. Kate and Sean’s kids Lucy and Daniel, plus child-free globe-trotter Izzy, make up the 11-person cast, which looks like the kind of group you’d see oohing over a glistening rosemary-studded leg of lamb in a 2009 Sainsbury’s Easter weekend advert.
So begins The Holiday, a mystery drama that takes viewers through the gamut of emotions from ‘Just ASK him, you wally’ to ‘Just ASK her, you absolute double wally’. The fact that Kate doesn’t haul Sean into the en-suite the second their wheeled suitcases hit the terracotta tiled floor and ask what all this text business is about is the first strike against her. The second is her habit of going for a dramatic clifftop jog any time she comes remotely close to finding out what’s going on.
Kate’s not alone in dodging revelations. Every character in The Holiday practises a conversational technique we’ll call ‘chattus interruptus’ which involves getting to the brink of a useful revelation then pulling out and dribbling an excuse onto the carpet about talking properly later. It’s one of mystery fiction’s cheapest tactics, second only to putting a key witness into a coma from episode one to the last ad break before the end of the finale. (Viewers aside, at least The Holiday doesn’t put anybody into a coma.)
Now streaming on Netflix, The Holiday was originally broadcast in 2021 with ad breaks on Channel 5 (they’ve left the ad intertitles in, to show how much care was taken over this transition). If you’re not familiar, Channel 5 is a broadcaster not known for quality original drama but which is now making determined strides in that direction. This show failed to set the world alight on original release, and its current place on Netflix’s UK Top 10 TV Series would be a mystery if qualification for those lists involved subscribers watching a ‘hit’ show for more than two consecutive minutes.
If The Holiday viewers made it to a third or fourth minute, they’d see characters indulging in passive aggression over platters of gambas al ajillo at upmarket beachside restaurants and whispering secrets around the pool. They’d see teenagers Jake and Lucy hiding something, glamorous Izzy hiding something, and Sean and Jenny hiding something in addition to their personalities.
For a police officer, Kate does a remarkably shit job of finding anything out for three episodes, and then it all comes tumbling down after a shock death (finale spoilers from here). After Jake accidentally starts a forest fire smoking a blunt in the woods, in the panic, Izzy – carelessly, the show’s sole non-white, LGBTQ+ character – falls off a cliff to her death.
Was she pushed? Yes, by Jenny the disaffected Swede, as witnessed by little Odette. Jenny’s troubled son Jake had confessed to Izzy the secret that Sean and Jenny had been trying to cover up. Namely: he and Lucy had killed a schoolmate in a deliberate hit-and-run after said schoolmate non-consensually filmed Lucy performing oral sex on him and shared the video. Sean wasn’t having an affair, he and Jenny were simply trying to protect their murderous children. Sean hadn’t told Kate about Lucy’s involvement because Kate’s a police officer, and as we know, they’re always totally above board and act with the greatest probity and respect for the law.
As drama, The Holiday is thin gruel, emptier than a swimming pool Li-lo, devoid of characters or originality (it comes adapted from an apparently best-selling book). As a mystery thriller, it’s more serviceable but still cheats like a cabinet minister in every place it matters. Viewers will stand for teasing and delayed gratification, but they won’t stand for characters stopping revelatory conversations because one of them needs a wee.
With this bland collection of nobodies, the secrets and murder aren’t even the most disappointing side of The Holiday. Anybody who opts to spend their annual leave in such smug, dull company deserves to be weeping on the plane home. Isn’t a requirement of the nightmare-in-paradise genre that the nightmare happens in, well, paradise? If it’s undemanding plots, posh houses and secrets you want, watch a Harlan Coben thriller – at least they remember to be unashamedly ridiculous. If it’s wilderness, beauty and murder mystery you want, try The White Lotus, Yellowjackets, Broadchurch, Shetland… anywhere but here.
The Holiday is streaming now on Netflix.