The biggest difficulty any film based on a TV series will always have, is justifying its big screen existence. Bill, a comedy from the stars of CBBC’s hugely successful Horrible Histories series, justifies its place in the cinema within its first ten minutes.
Opening with a scene that sees Sir Richard Hawkins breaking into the palace of King Phillip II of Spain, Bill feels larger in scale than anything Horrible Histories have done to date. The sets look bigger, the jokes come thicker and faster, and a strong, pantomime-like narrative, suggests a more filmic structure over the programme’s usual use of sketches.
Telling the ‘untold story’ of William Shakespere, who becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I by Spanish Catholics, the film manages to maintain the chaotic and unruly nature of the television series, whilst using the opportunity of a big screen outing to push the boundaries of what can be said and done.
Rated PG for sex references and violence, the team manage to get away with a lot more than they ever could on CBBC in the afternoon – offering plenty for adults, as well as children. In fact, Bill has more in common with the likes of Blackadder and Monty Python than it does children’s television, with a lot of the jokes going straight over the heads of the younger audience in my screening.
It’s still silly enough to keep a younger audience entertained, with toilet humour and visual gags aplenty; but the fact that Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard – who write, as well as star in the film – attempt to do something more than ‘Horrible Histories’, is one of the film’s greatest strengths.
Still subvertly educational – although nowhere near as educational as the series – Bill is a lot of fun for the family. It’s silly and clever in equal measures, the jokes are consistently laugh out loud funny, and, it plays well to audiences of all ages.
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