Based on the hit books by Terry Deary, Horrible Histories first hit TV screens in 2009 with the show’s unique format mixing historical fact and fiction with humour, sketches and songs. Horrible Histories offered children and adults a delightful mix of fun and learning, its recipe a massive success for Children’s BBC as it moved to a separate channel. Therefore, after eight seasons of the TV show, many may ask why it’s taken so long for Horrible Histories to reach the big screen. No matter how long the journey, it’s finally here with Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans. But does it work in celebrating the show’s TV roots while embracing big screen comedy and adventure? The answer is a resounding YES! as it takes on a fun and engaging historical romp that ticks all the right boxes.
From the getgo, Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans is a proudly British film in its humour, warmth and delivery. Here the unique attributes of the TV show are mixed with the enduring charm of British big-screen comedy, with echoes of the Carry On series, Ealing comedies and Monty Python. Opening with a wonderful tongue-in-cheek take on the length of the opening titles, we are immediately treated to a comedic take on the treacherous murder of Claudius (Derek Jacobi). Of course, his moody and insolent son Nero (Craig Roberts) and scheming wife Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) are more than glad to have the old fellow out of the way.
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But as Nero climbs the steps to power, his mother remains firmly in control, much to his disgust, as she pulls the strings of power. Meanwhile, not a stone’s throw away, Atti (Sebastian Croft) is leading a typical teenage Roman life when he inadvertently upsets Nero due to a pair of golden boots he has his eye on. Unfortunately for Atti, this minor disagreement leads to his banishment to what Nero calls the ‘Stain’ (aka Britain).
As Atti tries to settle into army life in the cold and wet ‘Stain’ of the Roman Empire, he is captured by a Celt girl named Orla (Emilia Jones) and imprisoned by the tribe led by her father (Nick Frost). However, as Atti tries to escape, not far away, a new Celt warrior builds an anti-Roman alliance; her name is Boudicca (Kate Nash).
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From the outset, Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans offers us a joyous musical-comedy that feels both fresh and innovative, its comedic charm pulling in young and old alike. Here Jessica Swale and Giles Pilbrow’s screenplay emits intelligence, glorious one-liners and endless wit as they pull off the tough job of translating a TV sketch show into a feature-length story. Meanwhile, director Dominic Brigstocke keeps the pace swift and engaging for the younger audience members, wrapping each scene in unstoppable energy. Performances are equally fun, light and energetic, with Sebastian Croft, Craig Roberts and Emilia Jones truly delightful alongside a stunning ensemble cast. It is clear that this cast is united in having as much fun as possible with their characters as they bounce off one another to create a series of golden comedic moments. The result is a delicious mix of history, humour and fun that appeals to various ages while embracing its uniquely British spirit and history.
Director: Dominic Brigstocke