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Horrible Histories: The Movie

Based on Terry Deary's popular children's book series, Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans expands on one tattered page from our inglorious national past for 92 minutes of toilet humour-laden edutainment punctuated by rumbustious songs. Director Dominic Brigstocke and his accomplices - screenwriters Caroline Norris, Giles Pilbrow and Jessica Swale - struggle to replicate the breezy, madcap tone of the long-running Horrible Histories TV series, which adopted a sketch format to hop between eras. Rattus Rattus, the puppet vermin host of the small screen incarnation, is consigned to a pastiche of the MGM company logo at the beginning of the film and a brief coda to confirm any stomach-churning facts underpinning the on-screen tomfoolery. Song lyrics are snappy and pitched at a young audience. "I'm better than Caesar/A real diamond geezer," raps an emasculated Emperor Nero (Craig Roberts) as he attempts to emerge from the shadow of his formidable mother, Agrippa (Kim Cattrall). "I'm the real McCoy/I'm not a mummy's boy!" Fleeting cameos provide a few giggles for parents and teenagers. Warwick Davis delivers a stirring speech as a gladiatorial trainer, who tells his sweat-glistened wards: "I want you all to give it CX percent," and Sir Derek Jacobi adds gravitas to Emperor Claudius, who perishes shortly after his throat is tickled with a poisoned feather. In 54 AD, enterprising Roman teenager Atti (Sebastian Croft) earns the gold coins he needs to buy a new pair of sandals by passing off a vial of horse urine as precious gladiators' perspiration. Nero (Roberts) receives the bottle as a present and seeks a fitting punishment for Atti's deception. "I'll send you to Britain," snarls the emperor and he condemns the weakling to serve as a centurion under Decimus (Lee Mack), who dreams of retirement on Italy's sun-drenched shores. Far from home, Atti meets feisty Celt teenager Orla (Emilia Jones), whose tribe are part of a rebellion against the Roman empire led by fame-hungry Boudicca (Kate Nash), queen of the fearless Iceni. Atti and Orla develop a touching friendship as they join forces to rescue Orla's light-fingered grandmother Brenda (Joanna Bacon) from the clutches of a rival clan. By working together, Atti and Orla hope to outflank the military manoeuvres of Governor General Paulinus (Rupert Graves) and send the Romans back home with spears between their legs. Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans gallops through 1st-century betrayal and bloodshed with vim and a mischievous schoolboy grin. Bodily fluids are used as easy punchlines and wanton violence remains cartoonish like when one character is decapitated and the woman who catches the severed noggin casually inquires: "Anyone missing a head?" Croft and Jones fling themselves into their roles with gusto, emphasising a strong message of collaboration and gender equality that should resonate clearly with the target audience.