The original run of the “Horrible Histories” TV series was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle shows, a perfect match between writing and casts and while this big-screen spin-off unfortunately doesn’t have any of the series main cast, it does manage to get closer to the anarchic edutainment fun of its roots than any other project has since the final episode of that 2009-2013 run.
When Roman teenager Atti (Sebastian Croft) accidentally earns the enmity of Roman Emperor Nero (Craig Roberts) and his devious mother Agrippina (Kim Catrall), he’s conscripted into the Roman army and deployed to the most miserable, cold, wet corner of the empire: Britain. But no sooner has he arrived than he’s captured by Orla (Emilia Jones), a feisty Celt determined to prove her worth as a warrior and join the rebellion being led by Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni (Kate Nash).
There’s a breeziness to “Rotten Romans” which belies just how much information it manages to sneak into the awareness of the unsuspecting viewer. Packed with historical titbits and rich in background detail, it manages to provide an amusing, if somewhat juvenile, story which gives Atti and Orla free rein to lark about while the main beats of historical fact are ticked off in the background.
The likeable cast bring energy and tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm to proceedings (although for fans it’ll be nearly impossible not to be mentally recasting who would have been played by Matthew Baynton, Martha Howe-Douglas or Ben Willbond etc) – although it’s a devilishly delightful touch to have Sir Derek Jacobi reprise his iconic role as Emperor Claudius – and while the comedy and repartee maintain a reasonable standard, the movie’s musical numbers fall a long way short of the standard set by the TV show.