Horrible Histories The Movie: Rotten Romans

Horrible Histories are a boon for parents and kids – the TV sketch shows are funny, anarchic and cheeky and the books are huge sellers, too. They make history relatable and present.

Now they’ve made the leap to the big screen, although not with many of the original team in tact, which might upset some real fans of Matthew Baynton, Alice LOWE Simon Farnaby et al..

They’ve chosen Roman Britain for their comedy – every school kid has studied it, so the ‘fun with facts’ element is high as a young Roman called Atti is banished by Emperor Nero to the wilds of the Roman Empire, to Britain, where Boudica is stirring up Celts, and even the women-folk, to resist to the advance of the legions. Atti falls for a young warrior called Orla…

Now, there are loads of gags. about the food on offer – roast dormouse, flamingo tongues and jellyfish omelette – all true, of course. There are also traffic reports about delays on Watling Street. and a good one about the young, nerdish Atti and his parents threatening to limit his scroll time. 

I liked this – it’s not the scattergun wit of the TV, but more in-depth and the laugh count is impressive, if sometimes based around fart gags (they always work, come on…).  There are songs and silly moments recalling Monty Python, of course, but there’s information here – such as proper Celtic medicine, where a dog just licks wound and Nero, played by Craig Roberts, inventing sunglasses.

I also like that it isn’t perfect like the Pixar carapace that surrounds kids films these days, so shiny and so honed. No, this is a bit ropey, cheap and cheerful in budget and aesthetic, and looks like it’s been shot in your local park…

Nick Frost, Lee Mack, Derek Jacobi (gamely spoofing his own I Claudius role – a gag for the grandparents, that one), Sanjeev Baskar, Rupert Graves and even Alexander Arnold pop up and Kim Catrall is the domineering mother, Agripinna, to Roberts’ spoilt babyish Emperor – high Vs all round.