I’ll say upfront that I am a big fan of Horrible Histories. I read the books a lot when I was younger and loved the original run of the TV series. Granted, I haven’t really watched it since the original cast left, but the bits I’ve dipped into have been fun. That said, I was still a bit nervous about the film, given the sketch format of the show and the need to fill a feature length film. However, I ended up having a lot of fun with the film, which is a fitting entry into Horrible Histories.
The film takes place at the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, specifically focusing on the reign of Emperor Nero and the uprising against the Romans led by Boudicca. The film focuses on Atti, a Roman citizen who is forced into the army to fight Boudicca’s forces after angering Nero. Whilst in Britain, Atti is captured by Orla, the daughter of a local tribal chief with dreams of being a warrior. Over the course of the film the two form a friendship with each other with their paths leading down to the Battle of Wattling Street. Now there are some parts of the film that are hard to talk about, mainly the humour. As I’ve said numerous times before, it’s hard to talk about good comedy without spoiling the jokes, but there are good jokes about the contrast between Britain and Rome, some decent toilet humour and some strong historical in jokes. I’m not ashamed to admit that I laughed consistently throughout the film, even at the sillier and more immature jokes. The film keeps the Horrible Histories tradition of being respectful to history in its own irreverent way, making sure that the film is historically accurate in a way that appeals to the younger audience, even having the character of Rattus Rattus come in over the credits to explain the history. There are also good elements of the film relating to colonialism and multiculturalism, presented in a way that means the younger audience won’t be alienated, and using these themes for good jokes.
The performances meanwhile add to the charm of the film. Emilia Jones as Orla is a lot of fun, showing her desire to be a warrior and her skill in swordplay and showing her growing respect for intelligence. Sebastian Croft as Atti is also a lot of fun (although sounding distractingly like Daniel Radcliffe at times), showing his more intelligent side in contrast to the physical strength of the other Romans and his growing respect for the life of the Celts. Craig Roberts as Nero is fun, showing the more insane side of the character and his tendency for violent mood swings. His performance also works well with Kim Cattrall as Agrippina, the two working well in backstabbing each other, Roberts showing his desire to kill his mother and take full control whilst Cattrall shows herself to be the true power in Rome. Nick Frost is also fun, although his role in showing concern for Orla is a bit clichéd. Kate Nash steals the film when she’s on screen as Boudicca, keeping the characterisation of Boudicca from the show as more of a rock star, with her rallies being like festivals, and she’s clearly having a blast playing the character. Rupert Graves gets some good moments being comically serious, there are good jokes with Lee Mack and Alex MacQueen and we get fun cameos from Alexander Armstrong, Warwick Davis and Chris Addison.
On a technical level the film is pretty solid, considering the budget. Sure there are limitations, such as the small scale of the Battle of Wattling Street, but things like the production design are pretty solid and the costume design I thought was pretty good for a film of this budget. The standout element though are the musical numbers. Horrible Histories is known for the music numbers and the film is no exception, having pretty good songs for Nero and using a rap battle to give a unique edge to the Battle of Wattling Street. The best song though is the song for Boudicca. Granted it’s the same song that was used for Boudicca in the show, but it’s a great song and hearing it over a cinema sound system was great.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Horrible Histories. Sure it doesn’t reach the heights of the show but it definitely captures the spirit of the show and I laughed consistently throughout, with the charming cast adding to the fun of the film. It is a fairly light film and I’m sure not everyone will have the same level of fun I had, but I had a blast watching the film.
My Rating: 4/5