Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (3 stars)

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans

A star cast assemble for this enjoyably silly big screen outing for the popular kids' franchise

After Terry Deary's hugely successful children's history books, a lauded CBBC television series, plays, merchandise, board games and even a Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, the Horrible Histories franchise was always destined for the big screen (in case you're wondering, 2015's Shakespeare-themed Bill, featuring members of the show's original troupe, was not officially affiliated with the brand). The question is, could the team behind the TV show – director Dominic Brigstocke, producer Caroline Norris (who co-writes here) and more – adapt what is essentially a fact-based sketch show into a 90-minute narrative?

The answer is: almost. Horrible Histories: The Movie will certainly appeal to fans (though they may well have grown up by now), with the trademark puerile humour and comedy songs present and correct. Set during the reign of Emperor Nero (played by Submarine star Craig Roberts), the story flips between Rome and Britain, as bloodthirsty Celtic tribes unite against their Roman overlords, with the rebels led by the fearsome Queen Boudicca (Kate Nash).

Other real-life historical figures include Emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi, reprising his most famous dramatic role in a neat gag for the adults) and Nero's power-thirsty mother Agrippina (Kim Cattrall). But guiding us through this ancient world are two fictional characters: wannabe Iceni warrior Orla (Emilia Jones) and reluctant Roman soldier Atti (Sebastian Croft), banished by Nero to the 'stain' that is Britain after an incident involving a bottle of horse wee.

It's jam-packed with appearances from much-loved comedians new and old – from Nick Frost as Orla's father to Lee Mack, Alexander Armstrong, Jamie Demetriou and Chris Addison – while the show's talking rodent Rattus Rattus also pops up, doing his best impression of the MGM lion. With singer-turned-actress Nash gamely rocking out and Roberts making for an enjoyably unlikely rapper, there's an overriding silliness that's hard to begrudge and, if the film doesn't match up to Life of Brian and Blackadder, two of its most obvious influences, it has its own ramshackle charm.

General release from Fri 26 Jul.

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • UK
  • 1h 32min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Dominic Brigstocke
  • Cast: Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost, Kim Cattrall, Warwick Davis, Craig Roberts, Derek Jacobi, Rupert Graves, Kate Nash
  • UK release: 26 July 2019

A story of Celtic tribes, led by queen Boudicca (Nash), uniting against their Roman overlords. The trademark puerile humour and comedy songs are all there, and it’s jam-packed with appearances from much-loved comedians; if its overriding silliness doesn’t measure up to Life of Brian or Blackadder, it has ramshackle charm.