Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans review – the empire strikes back

Derek Jacobi gamely reprises his celebrated role as Claudius in an entertaining big-screen outing for the CBBC television series

There’s a fair bit of fun to be had in this latest movie spinoff from the CBBC Horrible Histories series on TV, focusing here on ancient Rome and its attempt to crush the Boudicca uprising in far-off uncivilised Britain. The film’s most sensational coup is persuading Derek Jacobi to reprise his legendary role as the Emperor Claudius, which he throws himself into like the heroic good sport that he is, recreating the stammering innocent potentate subject to all sorts of awful plots.

Craig Roberts gets some solid laughs as the lyre-wielding Nero and the same goes for Kim Cattrall as his evil mother Agrippina. Emilia Jones and Sebastian Croft (young Ned Stark from Game of Thrones) play the star-cross’d lovers: Orla, a young warrior following Boudicca and Atti, an idealistic young Roman centurion with a grasp of a particular type of military strategy not seen in the cinemas since Zack Snyder’s 2006 Spartan melodrama 300.

Lee Mack is reliably funny as Decimus, the warrior embittered by the hardship of military service in the barbaric isle of Britain and pining for Rome. Sprightly, too, is Rupert Graves as Paulinus, the Roman military leader reluctant to be pinned down to any particular decision.

This is a decent bit of school holiday entertainment, though I felt that some of the purely broad humour did seem to be pitched at a pretty young audience, and the gags here aren’t quite as strong as those in a comparable film featuring Horrible Histories actors, Bill (2015), about the life of Shakespeare. But it’s good natured and I loved Atti’s mum disapproving of Atti always gazing at his scroll: “We’re going to have to restrict your scroll time.”

• Horrible Histories is released in the UK on 26 July.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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