The big screen debut from the cast of Horrible Histories was released in cinemas in September 2015. It is the tale of Shakespeare’s lost years, and how he went from being kicked out of his rock band for his Marty McFly-esque lute solos to being the famous playwright we all know and love in “that London”.
I went into this with a lot of expectation piled on it – I love the cast of self proclaimed Idiots, whose humour harks back to Python with their sketch like approach and combination of intellectual comedy and fart jokes. They are most famous for their roles in CBBC’s Horrible Histories, and more recently Sky 1’s Yonderland. This is their first foray into a feature length story, penned by Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard and directed by Richard Bracewell.
The majority of the sets and costumes were fantastic, only King Philip’s Royal Court was a bit of a disappointment (the screen covering a door being the main issue I think), but Ben Willbond’s larger than life performance as the panto villain Spanish Monarch certainly helped fill the vacuous space. I’m not sure the Oranges were entirely essential to the plot development, but I’m sure Mumsnet is all a flutter over it at least…
Helen McCrory was perfect casting for the ageing Queen Elizabeth I, regal but disinterested and delightfully grotesque. Damien Lewis was rather underused, but I did enjoy the casual reminder of his essential part in the plot.
Mathew Bayton is spot on as Shakespeare, adorable without being pitiable, and not entirely likeable all the way through; just as any hero should be! But of course he redeems himself and saves the day, as we all knew he would.
Simon Farnaby does a turn hamming it up as the Earl of Croydon; his character seemed a little underdeveloped, but perhaps on a further viewing his proclivities would be clearer – some of the sight gags disappeared rather quickly, without giving the audience the time to take them in. Perhaps that was to avoid younger viewers asking too many questions – this is a family film afterall!
Willbond’s co-writer Laurence Rickard plays the most parts throughout the film, although the whole troupe take on over 40 characters between them, with his main character being the Batman wannabe, spy Walsingham. He steals every scene, sometimes without even saying a word, his little sighs and groans summing up what 30 words would struggle to convey.
The last, and only female member, of the “Idiots”, Martha Howe-Douglas tackles Anne Hathaway, Bill’s long suffering but mostly patient wife; not a “meaty role” perhaps, but her frustration with her husband’s desire to not get a proper job comes across well, and I doubt anyone would blame her for her reaction at the theatre!!
The stars of this show, however, are the “bit parts”; Croydon’s long suffering manservant Ian (Rickard), the beautifully camp Earl of Southampton (Willbond), and Howe-Douglas’ Body Collector are stand out examples.
There is so much going on in this film, despite the tiny budget, that it warrants at least a second viewing, if not more. There’s plenty there for kids to find amusing, some seriously adult innuendo and tonnes of Shakespearian references for nerds like me.
Update!! The DVD came out on the 15th of February 2016 – it is sadly bereft of out-takes and deleted scenes, but there are a few nice bonus features including some facts about Shakespeare from the cast and crew, a Day In The Life feature as well as a short Making Of.
For a first outing on the big screen, this is beyond admirable – to cover such beloved characters and such a big topic with respect and humour is a difficult task to manage, and they have done a superb job. I feel I’ll be quoting sections for years to come.
I eagerly await their next offering…