There’s a tradition of making fun of history for kids in a way that gets them interested in the subject; 1066 and All That to Monty Python and so on. Horrible Histories manages to skip past most of the established clichés of kids movies and offer something fun; a ruthless Roman warrior named Paulinus (Rupert Graves) swings into a rap battle with Boudiccia paraphrasing Jay-Z with the line ‘I got 99 problems but the Brits ain’t one’.
It’s one of a number of sweet jokes here; like the Banksy-inspired vandalism in Rome. Rotten Romans also has great young leads in Orla (Emilia Jones) and Atti (Sebastian Croft). He’s exiled from Rome for selling horse urine under the guise of Gladiator sweat to the British ambassador; Nero is displeased when he accidentally washes his face with it. Atti’s exile is mitigated with his romance with Orla, a tough Celt following in the footsteps of Boudiccia (singer Kate Nash).
This is not only a comedy but a musical, with funny, tuneful songs and there’s game cameos from everyone from Derek Jacobi to Kim Cattrall. There’s so few British films made, and even fewer comedies, that Horrible Histories is a breath of fresh air, a Carry On film with with non-sexual gags, and plenty of energy in the telling. School holidays should be the ideal time for this kind of romp; admirers of 2016’s Bill will find the same welcome gusto in the historical antics portrayed.