Bill

A feature-length film from the Horrible Histories team, Bill *** skits on the lost years of William Shakespeare bounces along with verve, wit and invention.

Although there are clear debts and nods to Shakespeare in Love (Bill hangs out with Christopher Marlowe), the more obvious influences are Monty Python and Blackadder, so I reckon a new generation can discover the enduring genre of historically transgressive humour.

Bill (played charmingly by Matthew Baynton) is fired from his band Mortal Coil after a disastrous lute solo. He decides to seek his fortune in London as a playwright, much to the upset of wife Anne.

Meanwhile, the hapless Earl of Croydon (isn’t that Crawley? No, Crawley’s near Horsham…) has claimed he can put on a play for the visit of dastardly King Philip of Spain and is ordered to do so by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (Helen McCrory having a right laugh).

The two story lines converge, with Bill stepping up with the Catholic plot to invade gathers pace.

It’s all very funny and – to quote Monty Python’s Graham Chapman as The Colonel – really quite silly but it made me laugh. Directed by Richard Bracewell, the company (including Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas and creators Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard) look to be having great fun playing various parts. Lots of the jokes involve cross-dressing, historical anachronisms and backfiring gizmos (“that’s for making Gazpacho”) – and did I mention the gently offensive xenophobia?

Like Aaron Sorkin scripts in which the scene always finishes with a zinger of a cliffhanger, here the rhythm of murmured punchlines to end each scene with an apologetic little gag does get a touch repetitive, but the overall spirit is one of fun and the comic heart always beats in the right place. It looks pretty good, too.