Horrible Histories: The Movie. Rotten Romans (2019). Film review of the spoof historical epic

Image Horrible Histories Rotten Romans
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Comedy

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Jason Day, of Horrible Histories: The Movie. Rotten Romans. This spoof historical epic concerns the adventures of an accidental Roman Centurion in ancient England. Starring Sebastian croft and Emilia Jones.

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Synopsis

Set during the time of the roman invasion of Britain and the revolt by warrior queen Boudicca (Kate Nash), this comedy follows the adventures of Atti (Sebastian Croft), a scroll nerd who becomes an unexpected hero after being accidentally conscripted to the Roman army.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Horrible Histories Rotten romans poster

I have written before about being a bit of a history pedant when watching epic movies.

Not for the minutiae of detail about how a dining table is set out in Downton Abbey and the clothes people wore and how deeply they curtsied or even if they had to curtsey, but more the way cinema can play fast and loose with key historical facts when it suits telling a ‘juicier’ story.

Let’s take Braveheart (1993), in which even the most basic of events were thrown out of the window to create a salacious script. Sophie Marceu’s Isabella whispers to her dying father in law Edward I (Patrick Magoohan) that the child she is carrying has been fathered by William Wallace (Mel Gibson), when in real-life Isabella was a nine year old girl living in France when Wallace, whom she never met, was executed.

I thought that Horrible Histories – if you aren’t familiar with the TV series, it is a glib, hip, sarcastic take on the more famous GCSE history tales – would rile the inner pedant in me but, I’m happy to report, it’s more entertaining than I expected.

There are some great jokes throughout (the filthy cart driver whom someone has written ‘Wash Me’ on the his back; gladiator trainer Warwick Davis tells his fighters to give ‘CX percent’) but given the comic talent involved behind and in front the camera, it’s a shame most of the jokes – and there are plenty of them – miss the target.

There are plenty of gleefuly enjoyable, base/toilet humour jokes to delight the kids and adults alike. Farting, sausages/savages gags, Kim Catrall pretending to sound like a man by talking into a vase (I don’t know why, but this had me in stitches).

You can always tell when writers who know their history are involved in film or theatre – they can pen a persuasive, witty song and dance routine. Rotten Romans contains some blissfully witty musical interludes, some of which are penned by singer Kate Nash, who plays a feisty Boudicca.

Performance-wise, the best turns come from Lee Mack as a homesick legionnaire who wistfully reminisces about how beloved Rome in ever-increasingly florid paroxysms. There’s some neat casting in Sir Derek Jacobi who reprises in comedic form his Emperor Claudius, a role he played to great acclaim for the BBC in 1977.

Is all of this together enough to make this first Horrible Histories movie encounter a worthy encounter? There are some good jokes, yes and some game playing from the cast, but the laughs are few and far between, even for such a short film. I did find my attention taking a walk as the film didn’t fully engage me.

Cast & credits

Director: Dominic Brigstocke. 1hr 32mins/92mins. Altitude Films/Citrus Films/Stavingoh Films. (PG)

Producers: Will Clarke, Caroline Norris.
Writers: Caroline Norris, Giles Pilbrow.
Camera: John Sorapure.
Music: Iain Farrington, Matt Katz, Richie Webb.
Sets: Heather Gibson.

Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost, Craig Roberts, Kate Nash, Kim Cattrall, Derek Jacobi, Rupert Graves, Warwick Davis, Alexander Armstrong, Kevin Bishop, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Lee Mack.

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