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Horrible Histories: The Movie- Rotten Romans


‘…Horrible Histories is a breath of fresh air, a Carry On film with non-sexual gags, and plenty of energy in the telling…’

History is a hot topic in the UK right now; while the tv and newspaper media are jammed with flowery accounts of how wonderful the Coronation was, what a cutting-edge coup that Katy Perry/Lional Ritchie concert that followed it turned out to be, and what a boon to the downtrodden the monarchy are generally, social media tells a different story. The national anthem booed at football matches, poorly attended viewing parties and zero appetite for such medieval practices as swearing allegience to anyone, never mind public figures who have been poster boys for scandal and disgrace for decades. Even populist Paddington Bear was torn apart by his fair-weather friends when he, via his own Twitter, entered the political fray and outed himself as a rabid monarchist a la Peppa Pig.

So how do we make sure that young people know their history? There’s a tradition of making fun of past events in a way that gets young minds interested in the subject; from classic history book parody 1066 and All That to films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and so on. An adaptation of a well-liked series of books which became an equally well-liked BBC kids programme, Horrible Histories; The Movie manages to skip past most of the established clichés with a cheery wave; 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 in Dominic Brigstocke’s film; like the Banksy-inspired vandalism which is briefly glimpsed in Rome. As a movie, Rotten Romans also gets a considerable assist from two personable 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), a bonkers sword wielding warrior queen in the tradition of She-Ra, Conan’s Queen Gedrun and 2023 model Penny Mourdant.

Rotten Romans is not only a comedy but a musical, with funny, tuneful songs a game cameos from serious actors including Derek Jacobi (playing the same role he did in I, Claudius) to Kim Cattrall. There’s so few British films made, and even fewer good comedies, that Horrible Histories is a breath of fresh air, a Carry On film with non-sexual gags, and plenty of energy in the telling. School and public holidays should be the ideal time for watching this kind of romp; admirers of 2016’s similarly nimble Bill will find the same welcome gusto in the antics portrayed. History, horrible or not, is written by the victorious; a battle for the soul of the rapidly collapsing UK looks likely, and as the angry plebs and the elite retreat to their respective corners to prepare for a threatening class war conflict to come, a zippy, irreverent history lesson like this can only be welcome.


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  1. Don’t know the show. But I love history in general, though I didn’t much when I was learning it in school – I don’t know how they teach it now, but in my day it was dry lists of dates and really out of context events.

    It wasn’t until I got older that I realized history is just storytelling and is entertaining when done well.

    I may end up watching this for kicks, but even if I don’t, I’m glad it exists. It almost feels like a comic book or a kids’ book – get kids to fall in love with reading, cinema, and history on their level and they’ll have the foundation to come ’round to the big stuff as they get older.

  2. I loved the TV show growing up and held off on the film assuming it was going to somehow bastardise it. But you’ve encouraged me to give it a go at some point. Something a bit less serious might be exactly what everyone could use right now in the UK.

    • Is the correct answer. As I noted, there’s a long tradition of historical parody, and the tv show is a lot of fun. For once, they didn’t mess it up in the movie, and I think you’ll probably dig this film if you liked the show…and yes, we need a bit of humour right now…

  3. Well, looks like our sleepy Scot has finally woken up and come downstairs, albeit still dressed in his PJs. I guess we were wrong to let him stay up late listening to Lionel and Katie.

    Is this trailer dubbed in French? I don’t want to bother clicking on it to find out.

    • Sigh. Have been up and about since posting well over an hour ago, if you weren’t still leaving around in your Wee Willie Winkie nightgown, you might have caught up with my stern rebuttal of yesterday’s comment.

      Don’t some people in Canada speak French?

      • An hour ago. sigh What’s that, noon in the auld country?

        The problem with the trailer wasn’t with the French, but with the English subtitles.

        Now once you get some oatmeal in you it’s off to school!

        • You’ll be getting some oatmeal in you if you keep up this line of insolence!

  4. Boudicea – A myth
    Rome – a myth
    Jay Z – a myth

    my goodness, what kind of make believe tripe are filling the kids’ heads with nowadays? next thing we know, we’ll have a whole generation of Alex’s banging on bins at 2 in the morning…

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