Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans
dir Dominic Brigstocke
prd Will Clarke, Caroline Norris
scr Caroline Norris, Giles Pilbrow, Jessica Swale
with Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost, Craig Roberts, Rupert Graves, Kate Nash, Kim Cattrall, Derek Jacobi, Joanna Bacon, Alex Macqueen, Lee Mack, Brett Goldstein, Alexander Armstrong
release UK 26.Jul.19
19/UK Altitude 1h32

frost roberts cattrall

jones and croft
Relentlessly silly, this historical spoof manages to be funny from start to finish, although there are dry spells when the plot gears grind. With its peppering of British comedy star power, it feels like a Carry On movie that has replaced gleeful innuendo with fart jokes. Indeed, it's the kind of film that will annoy sophisticated audiences who won't be able to stop laughing.
Five years after Agrippina (Cattrall) and her son Nero (Roberts) killed Claudius (Jacobi) and took over the Roman Empire, Nero is annoyed by an insurgence of Celtic tribes in Britain led by Boudicca (Nash). Nero has banished young Roman Atti (Croft) to Britain, and there he is captured by wannabe warrior Orla (Jones), whose chieftain father (Frost) is tired of her militaristic yearnings. But Atti and Orla end up working together to rescue her kidnapped grandmother (Bacon), and they get more involved as Roman governor Paulinus (Graves) decides to stop Boudicca for good.
To Nero, Britain is merely a stain in the corner of the map, so he's enraged that Boudicca continually finds ways to rout his armies. To the Celts, she's like a rock star rousing them to riotous fan worship with her pounding-anthem theme song. There are a few musical numbers scattered through the film, which moves briskly when it isn't straining to make sense of the narrative. The ultimate joke, of course, is that most of these events actually happened.

Each character is played for comedy value, so there's not much depth for the actors to play with. At the centre, Croft is goofy and just smart enough to be likeable, while Jones gets a feistier role as the gung-ho Orla. Their slushy romantic duet is treated with the respect it deserves (that is, none). The surrounding cast gives it CX percent, with Jacobi setting the tone by merrily hamming up the opening scene. Cattrall has fun as the background schemer, and both Graves and Roberts add some subtlety to their roles.

This kind of movie lends itself to cameos (Warwick Davis, Sanjeev Bhaskar) and running gags. By remaining resolutely family friendly, the filmmakers are unable to exploit the period's obvious opportunities for jokes about gore or sexuality. But pretty much everything else is given a run for its money. And aside from some dull sequences that get bogged down in exposition, scenes are jam-packed with random bits of humour, most of which hit the target.

cert pg themes, language, violence 20.Jul.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall