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  Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans They Came, They Saw, They Conquered
Year: 2019
Director: Dominic Brigstocke
Stars: Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost, Craig Roberts, Kate Nash, Rupert Graves, Alex Macqueen, Lee Mack, Warwick Davis, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Alexander Armstrong, Chris Addison, Derek Jacobi, Kim Cattrall, Joanna Bacon, Richard David-Caine, Dominique Moore
Genre: Musical, Comedy, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A couple of millennia ago, in Ancient Rome, the Emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi) was ailing, but only because his wife Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) had him poisoned to make way for her son Nero (Craig Roberts), and then only because she wanted to rule since her boy was not of age yet. On an encounter with young citizen Atti (Sebastian Croft) that does not go well for the citizen, he punishes him by sending him to Britain as a soldier, but ironically that may have been the best thing to happen to him. In the same region of Britain, a Celtic tribe leader Arghus (Nick Frost) is having trouble controlling his daughter Orla (Emilia Jones), for she wants to be a warrior queen...

Horrible Histories was one of the undisputed hits of children's television in the twenty-first century, as everyone who saw it was impressed, and the kids who tuned in found a new interest in the past engendered by its way with wacky jokes that delivered genuine facts. They had dabbled with film before, as there was the William Shakespeare spoof Bill a few years before this which was Horrible Histories in all but name, but this effort was the first "official" entry to reach the big screen. However, many found Bill more authentic to the spirit and layout of the original series, which in turn had been drawn from the equally popular books by Terry Deary. Was this a disappointment, then?

That's putting it too harshly, as there was much included that adhered to the educational/humorous template as set out by the television series, though maybe the real sticking point was the original cast was absent, having been concentrating on their television show for adults, Ghosts. In truth, that was funnier than most of what was in this movie, and indeed maybe kids would have got more out of it as far as the jokes went, but it was not a dead loss, since the essentially goodnatured approach to the times it depicted (unless you were a bully) rendered it a perfectly acceptable way to pass ninety minutes, no matter what age you were, the proliferation of scatological gags aside.

It seemed the kids of the new millennium were absolutely captivated by bowel movements and urination, for most of the entertainment aimed at them was obsessed with that, Horrible Histories: The Movie being no exception. Though at least the educational remit illustrated how Romans wiped their arses and where the Celts did their business, so if those were burning questions for you, consider them solved. The grown-ups, meanwhile, would appreciate the presence of comedians and thespians they would recognise getting down wiv tha kidz by messing about in silly comedy, from Lee Mack as a homesick Centurion to Sanjeev Bhaskar as a Roman in a running joke about making divorce-worthy decisions for his wife to be unimpressed by. Maybe not quite as successful were the Romeo and Juliet-style leads.

They were not terrible by any means, but they did not have funny bones, and the scenes where Orla has captured Atti and has to spend time with him because she cannot kill him were something of a dead weight around the lighter moments, an issue when they carried so much of the dramatic import. Did we really need dramatic import in a Horrible Histories film? Still, it was not an act of self-sabotage, and with veteran comedy director Dominic Brigstocke at the helm and seasoned writers of humour on script duties, some with closer ties to the brand than others, you at least felt everyone knew what they were doing. The tone of the quips was self-deprecating in the main, a very British mode for all that, undercutting any pomposity or cruelty with a barb aimed back at them, and the action skipped nimbly between Rome and Britain, where Boudicca (Kate Nash) is gathering her forces in the way a pop sensation gathers their fans. All this gee'd along the learning quotient nicely, and it was pleasing to feel you had gleaned something from such irreverence. It was a musical, too, incidentally.

[There's a featurette from behind the scenes and a deleted song on Altitude's DVD.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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