Based on the books by Terry Deary, Horrible Histories first hit TV screens in 2009, mixing historical fact and fiction with humour, battles, songs and bodily functions. Its mix of learning and fun proving to be a huge success for Children’s BBC, appealing to adults, children and teenagers alike. After 8 seasons of the show and numerous awards, it is amazing it has taken this long to bring the format to the big screen. But with Horrible Histories the Movie – Rotten Romans, the TV show makes a charming transition to film, celebrating its TV origins, while embracing the family film market in a way few other summer films have managed. This is a proudly British film in humour, construct and delivery, echoing classic comedies ranging from the Carry On Cleo to early Ealing films, all mixed with the its core foundations of historical learning made fun.
Opening with a wonderful tongue in cheek segment exploring the length of the opening titles. We are immediately thrown into a brilliant scene depicting the murder of Claudius (Derek Jacobi) his son Nero (Craig Roberts) and mother Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) desperate to take the imperial throne. This is an opening scene that beautifully sets out the stall of the film, which has no intention of taking Horrible Histories into a Hollywood style movie event. Opting for great comedy and set pieces over grandiose overblown filmmaking.
With Nero now on the throne, and his mother firmly pulling the strings behind his back, we are introduced to Atti (Sebastian Croft) a young roman who is so desperate to buy new gold coloured boots that he inadvertently ends up upsetting Nero. As punishment Atti is banished to what Nero calls the ‘Stain’ (aka Britain).
While serving as roman soldier, Atti soon meets a Celt named Orla (Emilia Jones) whose family led by her father (Nick Frost) hate the Romans, their tribes slowly becoming besotted with a new Celt leader named Boudicca (Kate Nash). As Atti and Orla become entangled in Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans, they must find new ways to use Roman and Celt skills in unison to protect their lives, families and emerging friendship.
Writers Jessica Swale and Giles Pilbrow pull off a tough job, in translating a TV sketch show into solid film story. Their efforts paying dividends with an ensemble cast of great British acting and comedy talent that few other films have managed to pull off. While Director Dominic Brigstocke keeps things moving in fast, engaging and fun manner, never allowing the films pace to slow too much, or the comedy to dry up and become stale. Performances are equally fun, light and energetic, with both Sebastian Croft, Craig Roberts and Emilia Jones working perfectly together in keeping proceedings fun and engaging.
Just like the TV show Horrible Histories the Movie is delicious mix of historical learning, humour and fun that appeals to a cross section of ages, making it one of the best family films to have graced our cinema screens this summer. This is uniquely British humour and filmmaking that offers learning about the formation of our Country at a time of modern division and conflict, while doing so with huge smile.