Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans

The Britons are revolting - and so are the Romans!
Verdict: 
7/10 - Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans fails to hit the brilliant heights of its TV predecessor, but is still a welcome diversion into the past.
Release Date: 
Friday, July 26, 2019
Written by: 

The past comes to life on the big screen by a host of British comedy talent in Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans.

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For British kids, Terry Deary's Horrible Histories books and their TV spin-off have long been one of the more fun ways to learn about the past - combining scatalogical humour with historical facts that spark the imagination.

Now their combination of quick wit and stomach-churning tidbits is heading to the big screen in the clumsily titled Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans.

The film wisely takes on a familiar period of Roman history, beginning with the demise of Emperor Claudius (played, as in the iconic 1976 BBC series I, Claudius, by Derek Jacobi), and following the subsequent struggle between his power-mad successor Nero (Craig Roberts) and his mother Agrippina (a vampish Kim Cattrall).

Although we start in Rome, the bulk of the film follows Boudicca (Kate Nash) and her Iceni tribe's rebellion against the Romans through the eyes of Atti (Sebastian Croft), a teenager sent out with Rome's legions to Britain after a scam ends up soaking Nero in horse urine.

Its other main protagonist is Orla (Emilia Jones), a headstrong Celtic teen who captures Atti to prove to her over-protective father (Nick Frost) that she's ready to take on the Romans.

It's an intelligent, if slightly predictable, choice to pair these two characters from other worlds who inevitably come to understand each other better than their elders.

Both youngsters acquit themselves admirably, even if their performances, which are full of nods, winks and exaggeration carried over from the film's origins in kids' TV, are unlikely to earn them Oscar nods.

 

The Horrible Histories series was often not just one of the funniest pieces of children's programming but one of the most hilarious things on TV full stop, and many of the creative team have returned for the feature adaptation, including the director Dominic Brigstocke, as well as writers Giles Pilbrow and Caroline Norris.

So it brings no pleasure to say that Rotten Romans fails to hit those heights. It's often said that small screen comedy often struggles to translate to cinema due to the need for a tighter narrative and bigger plotlines, although the problem is different here.

The TV show's sketch format and lower budget provided the opportunity for its adult writers to indulge their inner child with genuinely anarchic humour, yet here we generally stick to the tried and tested.

The style of jokey anachronisms that fill the movie will be familiar to anyone who has read an Asterix comic, seen Blackadder, or Monty Python.

Songs were a big part of the series, and sadly there is nothing quite as fun as the TV show's Cleopatra as Lady Gaga parody - even if Nash relishes the chance to relive her old career by playing Boudicca as a pop diva.

However, although the jokes may wear thin for mums and dads, enough gags land, especially the crasser ones aimed at a younger audience, and there's a cast filled with some of Britain's best comic actors.

In addition to Frost you'll be able to spot the likes of Lee Mack, Alexander Armstrong, Chris Addison and Warwick Davis, while the perennially excellent but often overlooked Alex McQueen is on typical obsequious form as Roman Sycophantus.

As a result, while Rotten Romans may not quite compare to its brilliant source material, it provides enough family fun to make it a diverting change from the usual superhero and animated fare parents will find themselves dragged along to this summer.

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