Horrible Histories gang offer their unique take on Shakespeare's quest for success
A seriously witty subversion of the rise-to-fame of one William Shakespeare, Bill is a welcome cinematic introduction to the six-piece comedy collective best known for peerless kids' TV show Horrible Histories. Joining the cheeky sextet are no lesser luvvies than husband and wife team Helen McCrory and Damian Lewis.
Written by troupe members Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard and set in 1593, the film sees 30-year-old Bill Shakespeare (Matthew Baynton) up-sticks to London to pursue his dream of becoming a playwright. There he meets an impoverished Christopher Marlowe (Jim Howick) and is unwittingly drawn into a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I (McCrory) by the dastardly King Philip II of Spain (a show-stealing Willbond). Bill is supported in his artistic endeavours by his underappreciated wife Anne (Martha Howe-Douglas) and the scheming but hapless Earl of Croydon (Simon Farnaby), who's desperate to make his name at court.
Bill is an entertainingly irreverent biopic, enlivened by modern references and liberated by being less obliged to educate than its televisual predecessor. The script deftly balances in-jokes, innuendo, clever wordplay and fun cheap shots, though there's arguably more for adults here (not least in its references to 'clunky exposition', loan small print and security threat levels). Nonetheless, its main players (who, as ever, inhabit multiple parts) are reliably brilliant, with a gift for tomfoolery to rival even the Pythons, alongside enviable chemistry, sensational versatility and spot-on timing.
Bill is the third film helmed by Richard Bracewell, after The Gigolos and Cuckoo. While there's a certain elegance to his direction – which helps elevate and distinguish it from the collective's TV work (which also includes Yonderland) – it's also a touch sluggish, particularly in a rather inert second act, with neither the visual ingenuity nor propulsion needed to provide a fitting platform for the precision-executed comedy. Although it lacks cinematic dash, it's still an enjoyable first crack at storming the big screen for the Horrible Histories gang.
General release from Fri 18 Sep.