Out this week in cinemas is Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans. This is a movie based on the award-winning book series from Terry Deary that captured the imaginations of children across Europe.
The story of Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is quite a simple but interesting one. The time period is set around 43 AD and Rome is conquering its way around Europe.
One notable event is Emperor Nero (Craig Roberts) is having his birthday meaning he has now come into power. This is where “stain” on the Empire, Britain, comes in. Everyone across the Empire is bringing him gifts and so the ambassador from Britain gives him a gift which goes down, poorly which results in the ambassador’s execution. Nero, still in a hissy fit also sends young Roman Atti (Sebastian Croft) away to Britain as punishment for “assisting” the ambassador in obtaining the terrible gift.
This where we transition to the Celts in Britain and we meet young Celt Orla (Emilia Jones). She’s awesome. Easily the best character in the whole film. She wants to be a warrior but her overprotective father Arghus (Nick Frost) doesn’t want to put herself in unnecessary danger. He wants to show her how to live better with the Romans so they head over to the Iceni Tribe who live well enough with the Romans.
This is where the history lessons really kick into gear as Arghus and Orla see the beginnings of The Rebellion of Boudicca. Queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) wants to unite all the Celtic tribes together to kick out the Romans. To prove she can join the rest of the warriors Orla captures a Roman soldier and it’s none other than young Atti.
Maybe Rotten but not Horrible
Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is a lot of fun. I’ve always known it was a much-beloved series of books that engaged audiences around the world but I never found myself interested in reading them.
So when I sat down and watched Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans I was curious as to how it would play out. When it started I was struck by the big names in the cast, Derek Jacobi plays Emperor Claudius (playfully reprising his role from the 1976 film I, Claudius), Kim Cattrall is Queen Agrippina and Kate Nash as Queen Boudicca so fans of British television and cinema are in for a treat.
It’s not the big names though that make Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans so enjoyable. It’s the bit parts, the character actors and the two young leads Emilia Jones and Sebastian Croft. By themselves they’re charming, fun, and engaging, together they are a dynamic duo that brings out the best of each other in each scene. They’re the young adventures that will capture the hearts of the audience. I guarantee it.
Director Dominic Brigstocke is clearly bringing his passion and experience to the big screen and when you look at his CV your mouth will drop. This man has worked on a lot of big comedy titles, from Crystal Maze, Smack the Pony, to the live-action Horrible Histories series Brigstocke is the perfect man for this job.
This hut is built from s**t
If there were issues with the legitimacy of the film, it is definitely its budget.
In one scene there are supposed to be close to 230,000 Celtic warriors versus 8,000 Romans in one battle. It’s competently shot but nothing looks particularly interesting. The scene on show looked like a LARPing session in a field with maybe 150 people on one side and 50 representing the other. For those who don’t know what LARPing is, it stands for Live. Action, Role, Playing which is a kind of gaming experience people enjoy around the world. It’s low budget, everything is made of foam so no one gets hurt and most of the budget lands on the costumes.
I’m going into so much depth talking about LARPing because this is the level of budget I felt Dominic Brigstocke and his crew had to use to create the world of Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans. It’s not a knock against the film but it is definitely something that takes you out of the film.
Something new in something old
One of the most interesting elements of Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is the rebellion itself with Boudicca. I believe Bigstocke made a conscious decision to bring Kate Nash in to play the iconic Queen.
I think it’s because when Boudicca begins her rebellion she opens up with a musical number. This took me out of the film the first time it happened but the film leans into this angle and I believe the film works better because of it. It’s a fascinating twist that Boudicca’s rebellion is portrayed as a kind of concert and she’s this new rising star who is (literally) setting the world on fire. She gains more followers across Britain as each of her “gigs” goes down so well culminating in the Battle of Watling Street.
This brings me to the most important aspect Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans needed to get right was the history and it nailed it in my opinion. This film is aiming for young kids and trying to help their developing minds while entertaining them and it succeeds in my eyes. Not only that after seeing this film I found myself interested in learning about this period in history. That’s a real success for the whole team behind Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans.
With memorable characters, comedy that is rotten (but it’s in the title so there’s no hand-holding) and funny in equal parts Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is a family film everyone will enjoy. It’s something different, something quirky and I recommend it as the family film you see over any other family film that’s possibly out now.