This 2019 British historical comedy, adapted from the best-selling ‘Horrible Histories’ children’s stories by Terry Deary is directed by Dominic Brigstocke. It stars Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost, Craig Roberts, Kim Cattrall, Kate Nash, Rupert Graves, Lee Mack and Derek Jacobi.
When bratty Emperor Nero (Roberts) takes control of the Roman Empire, overseen by his meddling mother Agrippina (Cattrall), his first job is to expand the Empire straight away.Roman solider Atti (Croft) is stationed with a unit in Britain – known as ‘The Stain’ – with Governer General Paulinus (Graves) to repel Celt forces under the lead of rebel warrior Boudicca (Nash). Celt Orla (Jones) wants to fight, much to the disdain of her protective father Arghus (Frost). When Atti and Orla meet, the two see that working together could help unite warring factions…if they can cope with each other long enough to do so!
A staple of classrooms across secondary schools across Great Britain during the 1990s and even into the 00s, ‘Horrible Histories’ combined education, comedy and horrible content such as lumpy sick, executions, poop, blood and guts and rabid skin disease. But all in the name of making learning fun! From Ancient Egypt to the World Wars, these popular children’s books were published for 20 years and amused many an adolescent in the classroom.
With TV shows, spin-off books and even audio book adaptations, the next big thing was to take a story to the cinema, and which is the most accessible thanks to Hollywood? Why, the Roman Empire of course. But there’s no beefcake Russell Crowe here; no, it’s Nick Frost and a slew of British comedy faces who tease and jest the past and present to make learning fun once more as you delve into your popcorn.
But as the song and dance routines throw as much modern slang and rap comedy at you as possible, it’s impossible to feel that this is ten years too late and the transition to the big screen wasn’t needed, or necessary.
With a tick-box of Brit comedians popping up to quip a few humorous lines or pull some funny faces such as Kevin Bishop, Warwick Davis, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Alexander Armstrong to name a few, this is made for families with no material that will offend or sicken any age. We have multiple people being sick (and being sicked on), urination into jars at a drinks reception, deaths (many by comical accidents) and a host of inept soldiers and warriors bumbling around with swords and spears.
It’s as if Monty Python did history for children, which the series must take clear inspiration from. Except there will be no Biggus Dickus in THIS story.
Disguised behind the thinly, slightly nothing-y plot of young Roman Sebastian Croft falling for Celt warrior Emilia Jones who come together to unite both factions and strive for peace and freedom, we have many stories tied together such as Craig Roberts as monotone Emperor Nero trying to off his ex-’Sex And The City’ star mother Kim Cattrall, and singer Kate Nash as Boudicca rallying troops to repel Romans led by General Paulinus, played by Rupert Graves who channels his best Maximus Meridius.
While it’s all silly observational gags and short musical numbers, something the TV adaptations thrived on for a shorter run time, you can’t help feel this soon runs out of movie material and limps along, back and forth from character to character trying to squeeze as much comedy as they can from their scenes. Feeling like a TV special than a big-screen summer offering, the target audience may even wane from proceedings here since most of this material offers nothing highly amusing once all said and done, and the bulk of historical facts can be gleamed from YouTube or Wikipedia.
Maybe ‘Horrible Histories’ doesn’t work well in this social media / technology driven age when youngsters are growing up far too fast, and comedy as innocent as this and “safe” doesn’t break enough new ground for youngsters to watch. They don’t want to watch education wrapped up in silly voices and fart gags with “hashtag” references.
While the film does stick as best it can to telling real tales of the Roman / Celt battles such as the infamous Watling Street confrontation. The heart is there to bring this story to life for children, but they probably would find bite-size sections easier, and more fun, to digest via online learning rather than 95mins of a cast of faces they probably won’t recognise, but their parents will.
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