The Blog

Withnail, Ripley and Roman Holidays - The Big Problem With Movie Mini Breaks

It's always the same. One sniff of summer - in this case, a few mildly warm days back in April - and I'm planning my holiday. And the way I plan? By watching movies.

It's always the same. One sniff of summer - in this case, a few mildly warm days back in April - and I'm planning my holiday. And the way I plan? By watching movies.

Holidays, of course, are gold for scriptwriters. Sunny locations make the perfect backdrop for romance (Shirley Valentine), jet lag is ideal for trippy sightseeing (Lost In Translation) and unfriendly 'foreigners' have been textbook baddies for years now (as Liam Neeson's daughter quickly found out in Taken). The only downside for us film fan travellers is that real-life holiday experiences are rarely as exciting as they are in movies.

Take the family road trip. I had plenty as a child; endless drives along endless motorways, where hunger and sleep deprivation combined to create an atmosphere in the car just a few notches off bloodbath. Memorable, maybe - but certainly not as chirpily eccentric as the Griswald's in National Lampoon's Vacation. Attempts at back-packing around Europe, meanwhile, never even got close to a Before Sunrise-style Viennese romance. Thank god I never tried to zip past the Coliseum on a scooter, à la Hepburn & Peck in Roman Holiday. I'd have ended up in an Italian hospital nursing a broken leg quicker than you could say "Watch out for that badly driven Fiat".

Still, it's that fairytale element that's the real attraction of the holiday movie. It's all about escapism, enjoying an overly eventful two week getaway in a couple of hours - without the queues at customs and the bad airline food. Even the 'bad stuff happens on holiday' movies are a form of escapism, contrasting bad crimes with gorgeous views, making us glad our breaks amount to little more than debates about which sun lounger to grab. Watch the glossy adaptations of Patricia Highsmith's The Two Faces Of January or The Talented Mr Ripley and you'll find yourself outraged by the bloodshed and wowed by the luscious scenery... at the same time.

Judging by box-office alone, the ultimate escapist holiday pic has to be Mamma Mia!, for a while the UK's biggest ever hit. Being largely British too, the Abba film follows a similar path to others in terms of how we see ourselves abroad. In short, Brits in the sun are clumsy; either uptight or rowdy, ghostly white or redder than Ed Milliband's tie collection. It squeezes into a sub-genre that includes outings as varied as Kevin & Perry Go Large (set in Ibiza) and the big-screen version of Seventies sit-com Are You Being Served? (set in the fictional Spanish resort of... ahem... Costa Plonka). The locals are chic, we're idiots: it's that simple. Eurostar has made it easy to pop to Paris for a break but, as Le Weekend showed, we still make a bit of a hash of things when we're there.

The thing is, this year I'm thinking of staying in the UK and when I recently worked with St Pancras International on an online entertainment guide inspired by the station's rail routes, it made me realise that films about holidays on our own shores are limited.

A quick train trip to my favourite Brighton might have to be preceded only by the murky (but admittedly brilliant) Brighton Rock. Cornwall, meanwhile, means either forgotten Nineties surfing comedy Blue Juice or Straw Dogs, where the West Country villagers seem to all be inbred lunatics. And then there's the Lake District - beautiful in Withnail & I but hardly promising fairytale escapism (classic line: "We've come on holiday by mistake!")

Time, I reckon, for British film-makers to further explore the allure of our legendary homegrown holiday destinations such as Gt. Yarmouth, Skegness and Blackpool (the latter admittedly being used for Gurinder Chadha's charming Bhaji On The Beach - but way back in 1993). Hollywood has made millions from Nicholas Sparks adaptations, where dreamy Summer romances play out on seashores and lakesides. What about the same for Prestatyn? After all, there are only so many times I can watch Holiday On The Buses.