After the phenomenal success of the books and critically acclaimed TV series, the BBC have finally made a film adaptation of Terry Derry’s beloved franchise. Sporting the most complicated title of the year, Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is the first extended addition to the CBBC TV show. While retaining a lot of the charm and fun of the original series, the extended run time didn’t always work for the film, and some of the jokes fell fairly flat.
In 2015, the film ‘Bill’ was released, starring the entire original cast of the Horrible Histories show. Using Monty Python-style multi-role casting, the film was a hugely funny success. However, because it wasn’t a strict ‘Horrible Histories’ film, it was able to be fairly lenient on how educational it was, and more often than not it favoured jokes over facts. This time, the film is very much a ‘HH’ adaptation, and this means that facts have to be in place to ensure the audience also learns something, and these felt slightly out of place on the big screen.
The cast is a huge ensemble of big British names, with Nick Frost, Lee Mack, Warwick Davies, Derek Jacobi and Rupert Graves being just some of the countless stars on screen, ranging from full parts to small cameos. The two young leads, played by Sebastian Croft and Emilia Jones, are sweet together playing the Roman Atticus and Celtic Orla respectively.
After Atticus is sent to Britain, he will grow a friendship with Orla while trying to get out alive from the battle between the Romans and Celts. The Celts are now being guided by Boudicca (played by Kate Nash) and she is a fantastic all-singing Rock Star going on a pillaging ‘tour’ of Britain. Meanwhile, Emperor Nero (played by ‘Tracy Beaker’ star Craig Roberts) is desperate to claim Britain for the Roman Empire and will stop at nothing to do it. All the cast are great and are clearly having a lot of fun in what is a very silly film.
The comedy, blending sight gags, verbal puns and slapstick toilet humour, is very in keeping with the vibe of the show. Some of the funniest jokes were puns involving Roman Numerals, such as “gimmie a High V” or “Give this battle X.C %”. There were plenty of fun modern jokes too, such as a Banksy reference and a mention of the #timesup movement. Unfortunately, the show’s humour only needed to last for thirty minutes, while this film lasts for about ninety minutes. The plot doesn’t stretch out enough for this, and neither do the gags. The film lacks enough editing so ultimately the whole affair feels slightly slow and laboured.
What is quite fun is that the film still features several songs, something that was always a highlight of the TV show. The songs, which have to progress the narrative rather than just be a silly gimmick, are enjoyable but slightly less memorable than some of the classics from the series, although the Series 2 song about Boudicca makes a re-appearance which was a lovely touch. The songs do have some killer lines however, including “I got 99 problems but the Brits ain’t one” which was a fantastically unexpected joke
Overall, the first Horrible Histories movie is exactly what you’d expect. You’ll have a laugh and you’ll learn something. As for it being a well-crafted film, it does fall short, but it’s still a perfectly enjoyable family film.