Bill | Film review - Horrible Histories troupe turn Shakespeare's lost years into knockabout farce

Bill Simon Farnaby Matthew Baynton.jpg

Created by the six-piece performance troupe behind the Horrible Histories children’s TV series, irreverent slapstick comedy Bill purports to show what budding playwright William Shakespeare got up to during his so-called ‘lost years’.

In the gang’s version of history, he’s a hapless country bumpkin (played by Matthew Baynton) trying to make his way in London after being kicked out of his Stratford upon Avon lute band, Mortal Coil (just one of the script’s knowing literary gags). Much panto-like foolery ensues as Bill runs into hard-up, hangdog writer Christopher Marlowe (Jim Howick) and gets unwittingly dragged into a plot by King Philip of Spain to assassinate Queen Elizabeth (played as raddled, bald and lisping by Helen McCrory), a half-baked if dastardly scheme that finds the Hispanic hit-men posing as the Cockney Players of Bow.

It’s knockabout stuff, a long way from the elegant wit of Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love but performed with infectious gusto by the multiple-role-playing cast.

Certificate PG. Runtime 94 mins. Director Richard Bracewell.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.