If you’ve been to a Scholastic Book Fair at primary school during the past 25 years you’ll no doubt have come across at least one of Terry Deary’s ‘Horrible Histories’ book in amongst the Michael Morpurgo, Captain Underpants, or Judith Kerr books on offer.
That in fact is where I first came across them, showing a copy of ‘Stormin Normans’ to my then five year old daughter. She, along with her three brothers who came after her, devoured everything ‘Horrible Histories’, including the monthly magazine series, tie-in books, and of course, the TV show, which, like the books, taught history in bite-sized pieces. I was just as interested, reading the books, and watching the TV series, just as avidly as my children.
Finally, ‘HH’ (pronounced “ash ash”) has hit the big screen, with their first foray into film an amalgam of two books, ‘The Rotten Romans’ and ‘The Cut-Throat Celts’, focusing on the time of Boudicca and Nero, and the battles between the united British Celts and the Romans. It’s aimed at the same audience as the TV series, ie. primary school aged children, but there’s enough for the adults to get a hold of as well, and having seen it twice already I’m still excited to go and see it again, when it’s finally released in UK and Irish cinemas tomorrow, 26 July.
Without giving too much away – because after all, you *will* be going to see it – I can tell you that it’s been perfectly cast. Kim Cattrall, best known as Samantha Jones in ‘Sex In The City’, is glorious as Agrippina, widow of Claudius, and mother of Nero. In a nod to his most famous role, Derek Jacobi is magnificently funny as Claudius, while Craig Roberts – you might know him, as I did, from the Amazon Prime series, ‘Red Oaks’, but he’s been in a slew of TV shows and films, most recently ‘Tolkien’ – absolutely relishes his part as Nero.
In his first big screen role, Lee Mack pays homage to Monty Python as the ever-wistful Decimus, legatus of a Roman legion stationed in Britain. There’s some other great Monty Python tributes throughout the film (pay particular attention to the final battle at Watling Street), as well as other classic films. As mentioned earlier, ‘Rotten Romans’ has enough to keep the adults just as entertained as the children; there’s cameos by just about everyone in UK comedy and then some, as well as the very clever names of the characters (case in point, Nero’s “yes man”, Syccophantus, played hilariously by Alex Macqueen).
The two main leads, Sebastian Croft, as Roman teen Atti, and his counterpart, Emilia Jones as Orla, the Celtic warrior in waiting, are best friends in real life, and this plays out well on screen. Nick Frost is easy to imagine as the Arghus the Celtic chief, and Orla’s father, who just wants to keep the peace.
It’s not Horrible Histories if there’s no singing, and this is where Kate Nash, playing Boudicca, really gets into her stride. She’s a formidable actress, but we defy you to not sing along when she launches into her “theme song”. Additionally, Nero’s song is, in the words of my 13 year old son and co-reviewer, “quite funny”, while even Atti and Orla have a romantic duet (described at the end by Rattus Rattus as “soppy”).
‘Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans’ was mostly shot on location in the UK home counties. Barton Le Clay, standing in for Watling Street, is near Stansted airport; the Celtic village where Orla and her family lived, was shot in Slough, while Burnham Beeches, a gorgeous woodland in Buckinghamshire which was also used in the Harry Potter films, and The Princess Bride, was the location used for the forest scenes. The scenes for Rome were shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, as the only concession to authenticity.
Stay right through to the end of the credits, as Rattus Rattus explains, just as he does in the TV series, what parts are real and what parts aren’t. It’s worth it!
‘Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans’ is in UK and Irish cinemas from tomorrow July 26. See their official website for further details, including cinema listings and ticket purchases.