The Horrible Histories TV team, take a fairly convincing step up onto the big screen with this radical retelling of the life of William Shakespeare. When we first meet Bill (Matthew Baynton) he’s playing lute with Stratford On Avon’s hottest band, Mortal Coil. However, his propensity for indulging in tortured solos, soon prompts them to tell him to ‘shuffle off.’ (This will give you some idea of the standard of jokes on offer). However, Bill feels he’s destined for the big time and writes his first play, a knockabout comedy, but when his long-suffering wife Anne (Martha Howe Douglas) is unsupportive, he sets off for ‘that’ London to seek his fortune. He soon falls in with down-on-his-luck playwright, Christopher Marlowe (Jim Howick) and together they write a new play – but little do they know that the dastardly King Philip of Spain (Ben Willbond) is cooking up a fiendish plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, (a gurning Helen McCrory) for which he needs one vital ingredient: a decent play.
Fans of the TV series should enjoy this as the format hasn’t changed a great deal, with the familiar players taking on multiple roles. There’s plenty of slapstick for the younger viewers, some more intellectual asides to keep the parents happy and if the whole enterprise has the hit-and-miss feel of the average Monty Python film, it doesn’t really matter as the end result is rarely ever less than entertaining.
It’s also very refreshing to encounter a family film that, for once, doesn’t come absolutely coated in saccharine. The crowd this afternoon was proof enough that it’s reaching its target audience. We were probably the only grown ups there who didn’t have a chortling child in tow. (I think we got away with it.)