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Film Review: Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans

12 August 19 words: Fabrice Gagos

Terry Deary's books might an institution to those of us that grew up in Britain, but how will our French-born film reviewer react to the big-screen adaptation of Rotten Romans?

Director: Dominic Brigstocke

Starring: Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost

Running time: 92 mins

Yeah, yeah, I get it, Horrible Histories is a thing here in the UK. I have a confession to make, however, before seeing the trailer of Rotten Romans, I’ve never heard of it. Excuse my French.The film, directed by Dominic Brigstocke (who also helmed two seasons on the TV show) was my first encounter with the franchise, so I decided to take everything with a grain of salt.


Rotten Romans finds us in a Roman-occupied Britan circa 60 AD, during the Boudica revolt. He uprising is fuelled by the fact that Emperor Nero has ripped off her legacy following the death of her husband; a fact that provides the fist song of the film, performed by Kate Nash. This inspires porto-feminist Orla (Emilia Jones), a young Celt whose biggest wish is to become a warrior, only to have her ambitions continuously thwarted by her father and chieftain Arghus (Nick Frost). Deciding to take her life into her own hands, Orla sets off to capture a Roman in order to prove herself worthy. She finds the perfect target in Atti (Sebastian Croft), a Roman teenager with more brains than muscles, whose clever ideas lead to him being sent in the worst location possible: Britain.

And I guess that’s the main problem with Rotten Romans: the film focuses on this teen drama story more than anything else, and the history aspect becomes merely a backdrop to Atti and Orla getting to know each other and eventually becoming friends.

There's nothing new enough to appeal to a fresh audience, and fans of the series/books may be disappointed by the lack of anything horrible or historical

As I said, I didn’t know about Horrible Histories before seeing the film but, having seen the trailer, I was expecting something more Monthy Python-esque affair that remained accessible to young audiences which, after some research, I realised would have been closer to the original series. Naturally, we lose the sketch-based structure of the television series, but Python proved that the transition to the big screen can be done without losing the spirit of the television series. For me, Rotten Romans didn't really offer anything more than most other teen movies, and even the rare historical facts that the film presents are relegated to a small speech by Rattus Rattus during the end credits, which was missed by the majority of the audience who had already departed the screen.  

The overall production value remains at a television standard, and was arguably not worthy of a theatrical release. I was constantly reminded of the ITV series Plebs, but focussed more towards kids, and the extremely straight-forward storyline made me wonder who the film is actually aimed at. There's nothing new enough to appeal to a fresh audience, and fans of the series/books may be disappointed by the lack of anything horrible or historical. Even the anachronical disappearing of the infamous Ninth Legion is quite disappointing, Neil Marshal did a better job - but don't quote me on that. 

Still, Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans is an enjoyable, inoffensive teenage comedy, and there some laughs to get watching Rupert Graves as Governor Paulinus hamming it up and even singing (kind of), cameos from Sir Derek Jacobi and Warwick Davis as well as the inevitable fart jokes. And the songs are quite catchy: Is that enough?

Did you know? Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans is Lee Mack's big screen debut

Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 15 August

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